There’s a better way to resolve conflict | Guest column

There’s a better way to resolve conflict | Guest column

Submitted by Kimberly Vora

I am writing in regards to the conflict unfolding in the Lopez Island School District, both as a parent with two children in our school and as a professional with 15 years of experience in community development and organizational management.

Lopez families are deeply invested in ensuring our school can serve the needs of our children. We know that those who have devoted their careers to the service of students need to be recognized and supported for the vital and challenging work they do.

It is difficult to make sense of the conflict now occurring between many of these people. The public feeding frenzy being perpetrated in traditional media and social media is not in service of truth and justice, but rather revenge and destruction. I believe the most important question for our community to consider is not which side to take, but whether this explosive approach is serving the best interests of our school, our children and our community.

In my experience, organizations that undergo this kind of destructive conflict typically take years to recover. The work environment becomes toxic and highly stressful for staff. The timeline of legal battles is measured not in months, but in years. Huge amounts of financial resources and employee time are devoted to coping with the process. It becomes difficult to attract and retain staff and leadership due to the fact that the energetic focus of the workplace is no longer on the highest mission of the organization — in this case educating students — but on watching drama and destruction unfold, as individuals strive to protect themselves from personal and professional damage. The process of repairing the culture and functionality of the organization is a long and painful one. The mission of the organization, and its public support, often suffer deeply.

There is no question that the ultimate losers in this scenario are our children. The people and the institution that is meant to serve them are being torn apart.

I invite the parties to this conflict, and all of us who are watching, to consider alternative means of addressing it. What is truly in the best interests of our school, our children and our larger community? What would you like your children to learn from this?

Conflict is a natural part of human interaction. It can and should be used to deepen mutual understanding and find ways of strengthening our relationships and institutions. There are alternatives that can facilitate this, like professional mediation and restorative justice. Even simple, heartfelt conversations among neighbors are helpful. Some may dismiss this as unrealistic, but history tells us that meaningful change often looks that way when it is most needed.

We do not have to like each other, nor agree on everything. But we do need to accord each person respect, compassion and responsibility. And we must work together to serve a purpose greater than ourselves: sustaining a school that can educate our children, and knitting a community that is strong enough for conflict AND healing.