Non-Transparent Delaware

The Associated Press did an article entitled “How open record laws are applied in state legislatures” on March 13th.  Delaware did not fare well in this report.  The AP sent Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to all fifty states asking for the public schedules for the state Governor and members of their legislatures for the week of February 1st to 7th of this year.  In Delaware, our General Assembly is exempt from FOIA requests.  Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who promoted “sunshine is the best disinfectant” regarding public transparency of Governmental records, seems to be having a very hard time with FOIA requests lately, between the FOIA request from his former State Treasurer Chip Flowers and the one he received from the AP for their article.  The article gave Markell’s response to the FOIA:

Delaware legislative leaders refused to provide their emails. The Legislature has specifically exempted emails of lawmakers and their staffs from the state’s Freedom of Information law, as well as any communications between lawmakers, or between lawmakers and their constituents. A bill to remove those exemptions was introduced earlier this month but has yet to be heard in committee. An attorney for the lawmakers also said many activities on their daily schedules are exempt from disclosure, asserting that exemptions allowed by statute or common law extend to the concept of “legislative privilege” based on the Delaware Constitution and common law. The attorney nevertheless released portions of the lawmakers’ schedules while asserting that doing so was not a concession that the information is subject to the FOI law. The activities mostly involved appearances at community meetings and charitable events. The deputy legal counsel for Democratic Gov. Jack Markell said the governor’s office is working diligently to respond to the AP’s request, but that more time is needed because review of the records requires legal advice. Markell’s office has previously denied formal records requests for his emails.

I guess I should count myself lucky for the FOIA I received from Markell’s office back in early 2014.  But the Chip Flowers FOIA denial is certainly interesting because Markell’s office used Exemption 16 to deny the FOIA request.  Exemption 16 is when a General Assembly member or the comptroller is part of an email chain.  I find it very ironic the Governor’s counsel would use that as a reason to decline a FOIA.  Especially since they seem to cherry-pick when they want to use this exemption.  In fact, the Governor’s office has actually shown legislators emails in earlier FOIA requests.  Something I recollected right away as I was reading the Chip Flowers petition from the Delaware Attorney General’s office.  I felt it was my civic obligation to let them know about this memory of mine.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>

To: Gibbs Danielle (DOJ) <danielle.gibbs@state.de.us>

Cc: Denn Matthew (DOJ) <matthew.denn@state.de.us>

Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 10:04 AM

Subject: The Chip Flowers FOIA Legal Opinion

Good morning Danielle,

I read, with great interest yesterday, the FOIA petition from Chip Flowers.  I found it very interesting the Governor’s office would cite Exemption 16 for not releasing the information Chip Flowers requested. 

In December 2014, State Rep. John Kowalko received a FOIA from the Governor’s office regarding the priority schools in Wilmington.  He gave them to me to publish on my blog.  In several of the emails, General Assembly emails were used and not redacted, and in some of them they gave the actual email from State Reps. 

Here is the link to the FOIAs: 

https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-priority-schools-foias-part-1-kilroysdelaware-ed_in_de-rceaprez-apl_jax-ecpaige-nannyfat-roof_o-delawarebats-netde-edude-delaware-edchat/

I find it very interesting the Governor’s office would cherry-pick who this information is released to.  There is absolutely no consistency and I would strongly question the use of this Exemption 16 when it is convenient.  Please feel free to use this information for any ongoing matters regarding Chip Flowers FOIA.  If you need any other clarification on this matter, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

With something that took up so much media interest, I would think the Delaware Attorney General’s office would respond, but so far I have yet to receive a response.  I can only surmise based on the behavior surrounding the Chip Flowers FOIA request and the fact the Governor would need legal advice for the AP FOIA request, the Governor is hiding things.  Could there be something in his daily schedule he doesn’t want people to know about?  Or in his emails?  Did they include his “Alan Jackson” email address?  I’ll be flat-out honest: I don’t trust Jack Markell.  At all.  He is dishonest and sneaky.  He seems to have the General Assembly under his thrall this legislative session.  They are suspending rules and passing bills in record time.  Just today, Governor Markell signed the Commitment to Innovation Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 200, mere hours after it passed in the House of Representatives and 31 state representatives agreed to suspend the rules.  Including some who have gone on record as saying they never suspend the rules.  This tax-break bill, in conjunction with House Bill 235, are seen as great boons to companies in Delaware as the state faces potential deficits in their state budget.

I  have no doubt Markell will have instituted all of his education policies and agendas in Delaware by the time he leaves office next January.  Judging by the mad rush of legislation which will allow tech companies to swarm into Delaware with our generous tax breaks, Social Impact Bonds, Personalized Learning and Competency-Based Education.  Kids will be earning their number of the beast data badges in the not-too-distant future.  Parents won’t be able to notice, because all of our little screen-time kids will be staying after school in the SAIL program.  And Jack’s buddy over at the Rodel Foundation, Paul Herdman… he actually uses LEGOs to lure unsuspecting parents and children into his personalized learning paradise.  If you think Kindergarten grit is bad, wait until you get a load of the money pouring into toddler grit.  Of course, we must determine what children are going to do when they are older before they even know how to tie their shoes.  But we call this Pathways To Prosperity.  We have Jamie Merisotis and the good folks at the Lumina Foundation to thank for all of this nonsense!  And if you think Delaware has issues with FOIA, wait until you hear more about WOIA!  Under the recently confirmed US DOE leadership of John King, these things are going on in just about every single state in the country.

The one thing our non-transparent Governor is good at is the art of distraction.  He gets us all riled up over charter schools, opt out, and teacher evaluations while he paves the road to hell for John Carney who doesn’t seem to have the good sense to come up with his own thoughts.  And in case we get too close to his overall plan, Jack throws things like the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission vs. State Board of Education battle in our faces but there are questions about the legality of that secret meeting.  Hard to tell since no one aside from Tony Allen has responded about that one.  Tony made it very clear to me the whole thing was the Governor’s idea.

This is Delaware.  A state filled with sinister plotting and backroom deals.  Legislators who get the “Jack call” and make miracles happen before our very eyes while telling us it’s all about the DuPont/Dow merger.  Markell is the master of spin.  He can turn crap into gold!  And the state legislators, DOE employees, State Board of Education members, and business leaders watch in amazement as they hold onto their illusions of power and wealth.  We call these people “stakeholders”.  But guess what doesn’t change?  Bullying, teacher dissatisfaction, high-stakes testing, a severe lack of funding and resources for our schools, and more segregation and discrimination for every single at-risk student than you can even fathom.  All under the guise of student success.  The stuff going on behind the scenes?  We will never get that cold, hard, tangible proof to bust these children destroyers.  They write the laws to protect themselves and the citizens of Delaware pay for it.  And we keep electing so many of them!  We are a state that is immune to true and radical change.  We act as if holding onto a political party’s belief is what we must do.  I hate to tell you Delaware, but greed is bi-partisan.  The love we need to have for our children, our unconditional love, that should be enough to make the necessary changes.  But we aren’t doing it.  We are holding onto the dreams of yesterday and think it really matters who becomes the next President or Governor.  We get sucked into the 24 hour news cycle about Trump, Clinton and Sanders while the distracters spin their webs and suck us in.  It doesn’t matter who wins the Presidency because corporate America bought our government while we blinked.  Our kids don’t have a chance.

Campus Community Loses Two Special Education Due Process Hearings, First Victories For Parents In 4 Years

Campus Community School, a Delaware charter school, recently lost two special education due process hearings.  These were the first due process hearings in Delaware since 2013, and the first time parents won cases in Delaware since 2011.  In both cases, the school was ordered to pay substantial compensatory damages.  Both cases were represented by McAndrews Law Firm, P.C.  In an article the law firm put out today, attorney Lauren O’Connell-Mahler wrote:

The school was further ordered to review and revise the child’s IEP to address absences due to illness, and to provide remedial education to its staff regarding their obligations to identify all children with disabilities. The panel found that the school’s record-keeping was inadequate, and determined that the Delaware Department of Education should conduct oversight of the school’s record-keeping until meaningful improvements were in place. Finally, the school was ordered to provide additional information to parents of children with disabilities concerning the educational rights of children so that those rights could be preserved and protected.

Both of the cases are below.  Campus Community received their charter renewal from the Delaware State Board of Education in December of 2015.  Neither of these cases came up at all during any of the formal proceedings for the charter school.  The school did have a comprehensive review of their special education in May of 2014.  This was something their board requested according to board minutes around that time.  The report was included as part of the record for their charter renewal.

Due Process Hearing 16-01

Due Process Hearing 16-05

Breaking News: Delaware State Board of Education Passes WEIC Redistricting Plan With 4-3 Vote

by Mike Matthews and Kevin Ohlandt

The Delaware State Board of Education passed the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan to move the city of Wilmington students currently residing in the Christina School District to the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  The board voted to pass the measure.  While the past couple months have drawn huge debates at their State Board meetings, today’s vote was very fast.

Pat Heffernan, always a lightning rod of babble, said “Our kids deserve a better plan than this.”  But he agreed the current funding models don’t work.  He went on: “that’s not good enough.” He felt the plan was missing “essential elements…that shows students will actually learn.” He “won’t accept blame for a plan that at best gets a grade of C.” 

“Why would we leave out the details on improving student outcomes?”

“As part of this entire process, there should be clear goals around academics.”

“If Red Clay were doing significantly better than Christina, then maybe moving the lines would work. Red Clay has the same number of Priority Schools as Christina.”

“When will this actually help kids? The plan is literally taking years to take action.”

“We have examples of what works for our students from low income at schools like Booker Washington and Lewis Dual Language.”

“When we insisted on hearing how we are going to improve students outcomes, we were given what students are already doing today.”

“I believe WEIC is fairly representing the community and is looking to improve outcomes for students, but am at a loss as to why the outcomes aren’t improving graduation rates, increasing literacy, and increasing AP pass rates.”

Heffernan committed to voting no before it even came up for a vote.  But he made everyone in the audience know his thoughts, as he always does.

Board member Jorge Melendez said he agreed with part of what Heffernan was saying.  Basically, he said there’s a challenge in which the Board has been asked to move forward and that a lot of the people who’ve asked to move it forward have been part of the problem and now they’re saying they want to be part of the solutions. “If this passes,” he said, “then we need to take a hard look at those people who say they want to be part of the solution.”  He went on to say “anyone who says this Board can’t be trusted has no clue what they’re talking about.”  He said he was glad that he wasn’t at the WEIC meeting where the community called out the State Board because they would have heard from him. He said “Money doesn’t fix everything. People do.” He doesn’t get the simple fact that people actually cost money when it comes to education.

Board member Gregory Coverdale said he can’t support the plan.

Board member Terry Whittaker said, “this has been going on a long time and it won’t change just by moving kids.  It’s more systemic than that and we need to get moving on this plan.” 

Board member Nin Lou Bunting said, “Mr. Heffernan summed up what I’ve been saying for months, so I second what he said.”

And then it came down to the votes: Heffernan – No, Melendez – Yes, Coverdale – No Whittaker – Yes, Rutt – Yes, Bunting – No, Gray – Yes.  The redistricting plan passes with a 4-3 vote. Just like the last vote the State Board had when they ignited the biggest battle Delaware has ever seen over the words “shall” and “may”.

Now the redistricting plan goes to the Delaware General Assembly where a joint resolution will have to pass both the House and Senate in order for the plan to move forward.

(Mike pretty much wrote the article. I just did copy and paste based on the quotes. Thanks Mike! My doctor advised me attending too many State Board of Education meetings in a row was not good for my health. Feel free to give me hell Mr. Melendez!)