Incredulous: Watching CT Department of Education officials lecture school administrators on how to mislead parents

Just when I thought I had truly seen everything when it comes to the arrogance, elitism, audacity and contemptuousness of those associated with the corporate funded “Education Reform” effort, I witnessed something even more breathtakingly incredible this past Monday at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

It has taken the week to even begin to be able to put into words what I and a handful of other parents and public school advocates witnessed.  In fact, I wouldn’t have believed it, had I not seen it for myself.

As was initially reported in the Wait, What? blog post entitled, “Malloy-Wyman Administration ramp-up attack on parents who opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC testing fiasco,” a group of targeted Connecticut public school superintendents and principals were ordered to attend a mandatory meeting at the Department of Education to discuss their failure last sprin, to stop enough parents from opting their children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

Thanks to the anti-local control, authoritarian policies being pushed by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and their Commissioner of Education, the Connecticut State Department of Education summoned a group of local school administrators to a “roundtable discussion on family and community engagement strategies” on Monday, February 29, 2016 from 3:00 – 4:30 at the State Office Building in Hartford. The session was presented as a mechanism to enhance the communication skills of school administrators so that they could do a better job of ensuring that no more than 4.9 percent of public school parents opt their children out of the Common Cores testing mania.

After claiming that the meeting was actually a workshop, the State Department of Education told numerous parents and members of the public that they could not participate or even attend the “roundtable discussion on family and community engagement strategies.”

The state agency was clear – family and community were not welcome to attend or participate in a discussion about how to promote family and community engagement.

Finally, hours before the meeting was to begin, the State Department of Education reversed course or “clarified” its position saying that the public could come and watch, but would not be allowed to participate.

To call the event a roundtable would be … well more than a bit disingenuous.

There was nothing roundtable-ish about the session.

Instead of discussing parental concerns and how to address them, senior staff from the Department of Education lectured, instructed, talked-down-to and berated the local school administrators for an hour and a half about the need to “improve” communication with parents and their communities, thereby stopping parents from utilizing their legal and inalienable right to opt their children out of the Common Core testing frenzy.

One of the State Department of Education’s recommendations was to co-opt students to serve as ambassadors and promote the benefits of standardized testing.

In another example, SDE staff cheered about a YouTube video of teachers singing about how great the standardized testing opportunity was for students.

But the “pièce de la résistance” occurred as the meeting came to an end and a parent respectfully stood up to address the participants and explain why we oppose the mandated Common Core testing system.

And at that point, all Hell broke loose.

Parents’ rights lawyer Deborah G. Stevenson was among those in the audience watching the proceedings and today issued a statement in response to the events at the State Department of Education on Monday.

The communication leads with the headline – “State Department of Education Refuses to Allow Parents to Talk Immediately after the Close of a Training Session Held to Teach Superintendents How to Communicate Effectively with Parents!” 

Attorney Stevenson explained,

The Connecticut Parents’ Rights Coalition is appalled at the Behavior of the State Department of Education and Demands an Explanation or an Investigation.

As part of Education Commissioner Wentzell’s “leadership strategies”, designed to urge superintendents to “encourage” parents to have their children take the SBAC test rather than to opt out, the Commissioner called in Superintendents from public school districts across the state to the Department’s Hartford headquarters for a “training session” on how effectively to communicate with parents.

Facing reduced participation in the SBAC test, the Commissioner deemed it necessary to give the superintendents more “tools” to persuade parents to allow their children to take the test.

Among the “tools”, the Commissioner informed the Superintendents that if their school district’s participation rate fell below 95%, the district would be subject to dire consequences, including the loss of federal funding and the lowering of the ranking of the district moving it closer to a state takeover.

This, despite the fact that the Commissioner of Education recently acknowledged in testimony before the legislature’s Education Committee that parents do have a Constitutionally protected right to refuse to allow their children to take the test.

Yet, that right is not being respected when the Commissioner threatens parents, schools, and school districts with punishment for exercising that right.

When the Commissioner called the superintendents for more “training” to increase the participation rates, naturally parents were curious to find out about what the “training” consisted and sought to find out.

As Attorney Stevenson reports, truly amazing things happened both before and after the training session.  She added;

  • Parents politely notified the State Department of Education, days in advance that they planned to attend the “training session.”
  • While the Freedom of Information Act (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 1-225 and Sec. 1-200) states that “meetings of all public agencies shall be open to the public”, and defines public agency as “including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official”, and defines “meeting” as “any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency…to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision control, jurisdiction or advisory power”, nonetheless, the State Department of Education attempted to keep the “training session” for superintendents closed to the public, stating it “is not a venue for members of the general public to participate.”
  • Instead, the State Department of Education referred parents elsewhere, telling them that they could “utilize the public comment section during the State Board of Education meeting to voice opinions, ideas and concerns.”
  • The State Department of Education eventually changed its mind about keeping the meeting closed, but notified only one parent of that decision, and did so only five hours before the meeting was to take place. Consequently, only a few parents got that message upon such short notice and were able to attend.
  • Upon arrival at the meeting, those parents were told that they were not allowed to speak at the meeting, and that they were expected to sit quietly and simply observe.

Then later,  as the Deputy Commissioner of Education was announcing that the “roundtable” meeting was over, a parent diplomatically and respectfully stood up, thanked the Department for its presentation and began to explain why parents were understandably concerned about the Common Core SBAC and NEW SAT testing and our accurate concern that that our public schools are being turned into little more than testing factories.

The attempt to address the group seemed especially fitting since during the lecture to local school officials that same Deputy Commissioner instructed the superintendents and principals that they were to ask parents directly why they were refusing to allow their children to take the SBAC test.

However, as the parent began to explain our concerns, the Deputy Commissioner stood up abruptly and abrasively interrupted the speaker calling for an immediate halt raging,

“See, this is why we shouldn’t have let them in.”

It appeared that she or another SDE employee also demanded that security be called.

At that point, the State Department of Education employees and the local officials turned their backs on the parents in the room and, what could only be described as “scurrying,” exited the room as if fire and smoke was about to consume them.

Attorney Steven notes,

“In effect, the parents acted with patience and respect, quietly observed and listened intently throughout the entire meeting until it had concluded.”

The Deputy Commissioner of Education, and the superintendents, on the other hand, after being instructed for an hour and a half on how to effectively communicate with parents, quietly observed and listened only for a matter of seconds to the parent, interrupted her, turned their backs to her, and promptly walked out of the room.”

***

As a witness, I have to say that the whole event was beyond belief.

Having participated and watched government in action at the national, state and local level for more than four decades, I can safely say that I have never, ever, seen an meeting as unbelievably insulting as the “presentation” (PowerPoint and all) that those targeted local school administrators were forced to sit through or the even more incredible way in which public employees responded to a member of the public trying to raise important and legitimate concerns about the very issue that the school officials were summoned to the meeting to discuss.

To be honest, the word incredulous doesn’t even begin to address the sense of shock and dismay as I watched the horrendous and grossly inappropriate behavior of the individuals who are supposed to be working on behalf of public education in Connecticut and who receive generous salaries and benefits courtesy of the taxpayers of Connecticut.

In her letter today, Attorney Stevens understandably asks for an investigation into the abusive and insulting actions taken by these state officials.

I would go one step further, if I was governor of Connecticut, these people who have already been asked to leave and replaced with public servants who recognize the importance of serving the public.

More about the meeting will be forthcoming since we were able to collect both audio and video of the debacle.

You can watch a clip of the Deputy Commissioner’s response to the parent at: https://youtu.be/XA3cX3Z8Qnk

Those who would like to contact Attorney Stevenson, who serves as Counsel for the Connecticut Parents’ Rights Coalition, can reach her at [email protected]firm.com