The Hidden Side of School Board Meetings: The Toll on Mental Health

Milan Varia

North Penn High

Christian Fusco, the Vice President of North Penn School District’s School Board, had never experienced a panic attack – that is, until last October.

As he was vying for reelection, some online discussions reached the point where he faced accusations that caused Fusco to experience a panic attack, and it led to a situation where he had to be rushed to an emergency room.

“To see people who don’t know me talking about me that way, caused me before the election to have a panic attack,” Fusco said. “It actually happened at a doctor’s office. I had been transported from the doctor’s office by ambulance to the hospital. It has absolutely taken a toll on me personally, I have anxiety now, like I’ve never had before. I’m figuring out how to deal with that, and how to continue to serve in this role, knowing that it’s unlikely that this situation is going to be changing anytime.”

Christian Fusco, vice president of North Penn’s School District Board, said volatile meetings have taken a toll on his mental health.

The politicization of schools has become increasingly prevalent since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Parents have become more and more vocal during school board meetings and have voiced their concerns. Yet, sometimes these concerns become accusations directed at the school board directors and the directors now have a new set of problems to deal with: defending themselves and figuring out how to deal with new anxieties. 

Fusco understands that parents want only the best for their children, but also expressed that sometimes these extremes can cause issues.

“When people are going to a hyperbolic place is when it becomes an issue,” Fusco said. “When you’re accusing people of child abuse, you give license for other people to start acting in an irrational way. That can make us feel unsafe, to be perfectly honest. There are certain messages that have come our way that have made members of the board feel unsafe. It is taking a toll on our health.”

Certain comments have taken on major roles in the community discussion, and often relay false information. These moments can escalate and attack directors on a personal level.

“I can remember personally, before the election, when the issue of certain books being identified in libraries was being contextualized as pornography. It was put into online groups, Facebook groups, social media networks, of sort of like-minded political people. That was really probably the first time I started seeing people in public that I didn’t know talk about me,” Fusco said. 

Those comments online hurt Fusco deeply. As an educator who works with children every day, Fusco could not ever imagine himself as who people say he might be. Particularly with topics involving social issues, Fusco has faced major backlash, even though most of the time he is not in control of those decisions. Oftentimes, these books are concerned with the LGBTQIA+ community. 

“It wasn’t like this at all four years ago. The pandemic, while it did open up the meeting forum for the community, which by and large is a good thing, it clearly has come with some unintended consequences,” Fusco said. “One of which is, it’s a lot easier to find faults and to make those accusations and make them into viral videos.”

As community members continue to get more and more involved, situations like these continue to occur more frequently and escalate more often. Fusco believes that part comes down to a misunderstanding.

There are certain messages that have come our way that have made members of the board feel unsafe. It is taking a toll on our health.”

Christian Fusco

“I think there’s this misunderstanding of the position of school board director — that we are experts on everything … that happens within every single building in the course of every day,” he said. “In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.” 

School board directors are volunteers and work for the people in their community. They are not paid, and instead, are dedicating time towards the district on their own accord.

“There is a difference between what we do and what other politicians do. We don’t have an office. We don’t have a staff. When you see our own numbers on our website,  those are our actual phone numbers,” Fusco said. “We are doing this because we want to serve the community. I have not made a decision that everybody in the community is happy with– but understand that I’m representing the will of the community and that the decisions we make [we believe] are in the best interest of the school district.”

Leave a Reply