Toby Dawn throws angry apples

by Tom Deighan

Peanut, our chihuahua, must always visit the backyard first thing in the morning, especially since his bladder surgery. So, when an apple landed next to him in the grass the other morning, he sniffed it and hiked his little leg.  When the second and third apples landed in our yard, however, he ran for the pet door. “Shame, shame, shame!”  My lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre, was throwing apples over the fence at me. “Shame on you, Mr. Superintendent, for closing schools!” Apples are in short supply, so I immediately began gathering them up (except Peanut’s apple, of course). 

Like all of us, Toby Dawn McIntyre runs hot and cold on this issue. He has shamed me for opening schools, and he has now shamed me for closing them. But in fairness to Toby, I released a book this week about open schools, so I might deserve a few apples tossed my way. (Sweet irony!) Nevertheless, my book is not about shaming schools for opening or closing.  It is about raising awareness of the thousands of unknown schools in our nation that never closed preemptively or indefinitely due to COVID, so fearful districts can reopen permanently with confidence.  Eventually, Toby ran out of apples and calmly sat on our back porch, and Peanut happily hopped on his lap.

This is the first time Duncan voluntarily closed due to COVID, but we closed due to actual conditions, just as we have done for the flu, but this week was a triple-whammy of Flu, COVID, and other illnesses. On Wednesday morning, we hit critical mass. Staff and student absences were growing, and dedicated employees all over the district were coughing. Staying open was courting disaster, so I closed schools. I am 100% accountable for this decision, so any apples tossed my way are understood. (Just don’t hit Peanut.) 

High profile educational leaders, from both sides, are tossing apples, too. Some are fearfully demanding schools close preemptively. Others castigate schools for closing even due to actual sick people, as Duncan did this week. Both sides of the debate obsess about schools that preemptively close, but they say little about schools that have been open this whole time. Instead of pointing fingers, maybe they can find answers from the “open” schools, so we can end this plague of school closures.

I started my book, The Lonely Struggle for Open Schools, on Dec. 18 after hearing about more preemptive closures. Thousands of schools in our nation never closed preemptively or indefinitely, and by telling Duncan’s story, I hoped to raise awareness that open schools are not only possible but also safe as we prepare for the 2022-23 school year. All proceeds will be donated to the DPS Foundation.

I can forgive people who have never run school districts for throwing apples at those of us who do; that’s part of the job. As we prepare for our fourth school year with COVID, however, parents and educators need hope. We have enough models, data, and examples at this point to empower schools instead of throwing apples.

It is time to reassure and support parents with the hope of open schools for the 2022-23 school year. The political theater of shaming schools for opening and/or closing has not gotten us anywhere. This is a new year, so maybe we can finally empower schools to permanently reopen by studying the schools that have been open safely and successfully.  

Toby Dawn, Peanut, and I sat there silently for a moment on the back porch, when he finally spoke up. (Toby, not Peanut.) “I’m sorry, Tommy Boy,” he said, “I was mad and just wanted to throw something . . . I also knew you liked apples.” 

For future reference, that’s what Toby calls a win-win, and Peanut certainly agrees. Meanwhile, keep throwing apples. Soon, I may have enough for a pie! 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at and read past articles at