Jacob’s Opt-Out

Right now, I am sitting in a coffee shop while my son is at school.  The Delaware PTA sponsored rally to override the veto of House Bill 50 is going to happen today outside Legislative Hall in Dover at 1pm.  I hope to attend and speak.  Below is what I will be saying and what I emailed to the Delaware House of Representatives today.  Should circumstances not allow me to be present at the rally (as I am writing this at 10am), I wanted to make sure this got out there.  This is the heart of my personal reasons why I have fought so hard for House Bill 50 and a parent’s choice to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Jacob’s Opt-Out

I want to thank everyone who could make it today. Thank you to Yvonne Johnson, Terri Hodges, and the Delaware PTA for their incredible and outstanding support on House Bill 50.  Thank you to the DSEA for their support of a parent’s right to opt their child out of standardized testing.  Thank you to Rep. John Kowalko and Senator Dave Lawson for seeing the wisdom in bringing this bill forward in support of student and parental rights.  Thank you to all the legislators who voted yes for the bill last Spring, and I pray you will find it in your hearts to echo your votes today.

While all of this has been going on for the past year, I have been unable to talk about my personal experience with opting my son out. Many have asked me what kind of response I received, and I said that I didn’t believe there was any.  Now that matters have been resolved with my son Jacob’s former district, I feel it is important to let folks know what happened to him and my family when we opted him out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

My son had an IEP at his school. It was a very difficult IEP process as my son’s disabilities are very unique.  There was a great deal of conflict with some of the members of his IEP team, I will not shy away from that.  But we were always at the table and able to work through the issues.  Until I opted my son out in a letter to the Delaware State News on October 7th, 2014.  Immediately afterwards, my son’s situation at his school deteriorated.  We received a very threatening letter from the district superintendent within days of the article posting, even going so far as advising us we would not be allowed to be involved in our son’s IEP process unless we “behaved”.  While the letter did not mention opt out, it became more than obvious the school was not in the same collaborative mood they had been previously.  At the end of October that year, my son was denied social skills services that were a part of his signed IEP.  Accommodations were not being followed with fidelity.  Communication over things going on with my son came to a stop.  The principal would not address me at all.  On December 23rd, after eight physical assaults against my son at his school, he received a concussion.  He went on homebound instruction for the rest of the school year, and we had no choice but to pull him out of his district and send him to a private school, at great personal pain and expense to my family.

I love my son more than anything in this world. He suffered immensely, I believe, due to my decision to opt him out.  I wrestle with guilt over that every single day, but I stand firm in my belief that I made the right decision for him.  My son is not a test score.  He is not data.  He is a human being.  I support House Bill 50 because it is about protecting a parent’s choice and it gives protection to students.  I firmly believe, with every fiber of my being, that if House Bill 50 was put into law in October 2014, my son’s life would be completely different.  This is Jacob’s story, and I hope and pray no student ever has to go through the pain, loneliness, and depression my son went through.  No parent should ever have to question decisions they make for their child when it is supported by something they feel is right for their child after careful research and consideration.  This is something I haven’t shared with anyone until now because of how personal it is, but I believe now is the time.

To the Delaware House of Representatives: Please vote yes for both the suspension of rules and the override of House Bill 50 today. Please put aside the political bickering over suspension of rules for this one issue today and vote for what is right for the students and parents of Delaware.  The people of Delaware are watching you and they want their voices to be heard.

5 thoughts on “Jacob’s Opt-Out

  1. Great work–thank you for supporting all kids in DE! Not many have the courage to do so–our educational system is a bully themselves, it’s a tough fight!! Kuddos to you for sticking it out for those who will not or cannot speak.

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  2. Thank you for everything you do. Unfortunately, your story will become all too common without House Bill 50. When you ultimately bring it down to the base level, this is all about money. It is about the Governor getting his $ on the back-end, the State getting $ from the Federal Government, & the School District getting their $ from the State. These types of actions will only get worse as time goes on, and it will only embolden Districts to create new rules/policies to make opting out as painful as possible.

    Voting against the veto override will send the message that Legislators are not willing to take the extra step to ensure that parent’s & student’s rights are protected. The message will be sent that Legislators are either only willing to do just enough to try to pacify everyone or simply don’t understand the issue at hand. To hear a legislator say, “well DOE addressed the issue with SATs for 11th Graders” or “parents can still opt-out if they want” to is missing the point. This is about saying parents have the right to opt-out & (here is the really important part!) we are going to explicitly protect that right. This is about saying we are going to make sure that if you request to opt-out we will not allow anyone: 1) to send you a letter misquoting State law, 2) put a child in a library or classroom & not receive any instruction, & 3) use a Parent’s choice to opt-out to punish the student to “get back at” the Parent.

    Even aside from the above points, this test is not about the Students or even the Teachers.

    Let’s be honest, the State & the Districts do not even have the proper people in place to analyze the data in any meaningful way. They are producing data to be analyzed by people who are not equipped (& it is not & will not be from a lack of trying) to manipulate data (i.e. remove outliers, perform in-depth trend analysis, etc.) & develop truly meaningful recommendations with the data. Instead, they are producing data & dumping it in the laps of Educators, who are trained to TEACH not perform data analysis. Then you are expecting them to take the time to analyze it, which must be done in-depth, to implement improvements. For the State & local Districts to expect Teachers to do such is beyond ill conceived. Additionally, where will Teachers find the time in their already busy day to do such? You can only keep so many balls in the air at once, & people have a natural tendency to drop the ones that are least important or that they cannot adequately manage first (both are the situations here). Even with “data analysts” on staff, it will still not be properly used, since the “data analysts” are hired needing to have a background in primarily in education. The same way I could never walk into a classroom & teach in any meaningful way, we cannot expect ANYONE in the current School District (including a Superintendent or CFO) to adequately mine the data. If it were so easy, businesses across the world would not have full-time staff members hired for the sole purpose of creating reports from data, then have others to interpret & explain the data (in the multitude of ways it is broken down), & still others to work with decisions makers in implementing the data. What’s even worse is instead of getting the right people in place to adequately manage the data to provide the tools needed for improvements (and hold the Districts accountable for creating action plans to create improvements), we are expecting Teachers to take the data & use it to create improvements (which is an inherently flawed theory based on my comments above), then we will take it a step further by holding them accountable for not producing the expected results when we already know that they are not equipped to properly handle & analyze the data from the beginning.

    This test is about the $ that comes along with participation rates, certain high-level decision makers developing relationships with the testing providers, & future employment for other “Champions” of the test by being able to say “look what I did”. It is not about what’s best for the kids, it is not about providing Teachers with the PROPER tools to help their students & improve their skills, & it is not about providing strong feedback to the parents about how to best assist in participating in our child’s educator. To say anything else is nothing more fallacy based on the blind belief of a sales pitch from DOE & Governor Markell, who both have the most to gain monetarily from you buying what they are selling.

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  3. Kevin, A very touching story.  I’m sorry for what you and your son have had to endure and can understand why you feel responsible for some of it.  But don’t burden yourself with guilt;  you did what was right.  You know it, and some day your son will, too, if he doesn’t understand it now. I guess I will need to revise my comments about HB 240 and send them first to the House Republicans.  It baffles me as to why they did what they did, because it is very hard for me to believe that it was all about one upmanship.  I don’t doubt that they did it; it’s just hard to believe and is very disappointing.  I know Jeff Spiegelman a little and am glad he had the courage to do what he believed was right. Lorrie

    From: Exceptional Delaware To: ljog1@yahoo.com Sent: Thursday, January 14, 2016 12:16 PM Subject: [New post] Jacob’s Opt-Out #yiv9287320099 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv9287320099 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv9287320099 a.yiv9287320099primaryactionlink:link, #yiv9287320099 a.yiv9287320099primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv9287320099 a.yiv9287320099primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv9287320099 a.yiv9287320099primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv9287320099 WordPress.com | Kevin Ohlandt posted: “Right now, I am sitting in a coffee shop while my son is at school.  The Delaware PTA sponsored rally to override the veto of House Bill 50 is going to happen today outside Legislative Hall in Dover at 1pm.  I hope to attend and speak.  Below is what I wi” | |

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  4. Kevin, I thought the bullying and intimidation we received from Indian River was excessive, but I now realize that it was quite minor comparatively. Thank you for sharing your story so that others can realize they are not alone in dealing with the intimidation tactics of our school districts.

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