I’ve given a ton of public comments in the past two and a half years. 100? 200? I can’t keep track. Tonight, I got yelled at for my public comment. By a member of the Delaware ESSA Advisory Committee. It got ugly. I’m not one to just let someone yell at me like that.
A member of the committee asked the Delaware Dept. of Education how much the committee’s input really means. She asked the DOE, on a scale of 1-10, how much that input means. It was a very fair and valid question. I have seen the woman before. Maria Matos. I knew she was on a charter school board and involved with the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington. But I have never had a conversation with her. I don’t think she has ever said hello to me or if I’ve been in a position to introduce myself. I meet a lot of people in Delaware education. I tend to disagree with many, but I make it a point to show respect face to face. In a public meeting, there is an understood rule that you don’t devolve to a level of hostility. Have I always subscribed to that rule? No, I haven’t.
At a State Board of Education meeting in July of 2015, the Governor had just vetoed House Bill 50. I had to hear former Secretary of Education Mark Murphy talk about it and how it was a good thing. He was going on and on about it. Was he rubbing my face in it? Perhaps. I yelled from the back something about how wrong they were and stormed out. Not a moment I was proud of. Even though I didn’t agree with what they were saying, I felt bad about it. I emailed the entire board and Mark Murphy and apologized for my behavior. I did tell the entire Christina board I was going to FOIA them one night, but I did raise my hand to speak and they allowed me to speak. So that doesn’t really count. I’ve yelled at Mark Murphy a couple of times and Senator David Sokola once at Legislative Hall during the House Bill 50 opt out days when the bill was still in play. But I digress.
So tonight, Karen Field-Rogers with the Delaware DOE responds to Ms. Matos’ question. She tells her this committee, the ESSA Advisory Committee, has deeper connections with education and she said they would have about 80% input on the Delaware ESSA state plan which will be submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education. That led to a whole other conversation about federal control, state control, and local control. The time came for public comment. I had something all typed out and ready to go, but upon hearing Field-Rogers response to Matos, I felt the need to ad lib my comment.
I basically said it was very disheartening to hear that this group was given an 8 out of 10 priority for input on the plan. It felt like the ESSA Discussion Groups and the Community Conversation Groups were all of a sudden less important, that their voice didn’t matter as much. That was the bulk of my public comment, short and sweet. There has already been a huge question in the air about if the Delaware DOE already has the plan written and the stakeholder input is being used for show. At the very least, the kind of questions the DOE are asking participants in any ESSA meeting are very narrow in scope. Many questions are asked in such a way that someone answering could only give answers that would lean toward pre-conceived notions of what the DOE may put in the final plan. The fact that the ESSA Advisory Committee was given six different questions tonight, one for each table, and the DOE representative at each table gave the report of each group’s discussion shows far too much DOE control than I am comfortable with. And those DOE reps will be writing reports to the DOE based on how they interpret the findings of each group.
Usually, public comment ends and the group adjourns and everyone goes home. But not tonight. Matos yells at me. She yells that the DOE just said it was an 8. I went to respond and she continued. I asked her why she was yelling at me and let her know I didn’t even know her. She continued to yell about the same thing. I told her this was public comment and she needed to step off. I literally said those words. She said something about not stepping up, but at the point the moderator intervened and adjourned the meeting. Usually I stick around and say goodbye to folks, but not tonight. I was pretty hot and I knew staying in that room would not be a wise idea. I wish Matos would have used that same restraint a few minutes earlier…
So Ms. Matos, allow me to introduce myself. I’m the member of the public you yelled at tonight. And I will tell you straight up, that doesn’t fly with me. You want to disagree with me, that’s fine. People disagree with me all the time. You want to yell at me after a public meeting or in the parking lot, have at it. But you will not disrespect me in front of an audience with something you didn’t even hear right to begin with. Maybe people allow you to do that at other meetings, but when someone gives a public comment at a public meeting, you respect that. I’m sure you have done many wonderful things for Delaware education. But that does not make you better than me or gives you the justification to do that. I don’t care how many boards or committees you may be on. And just because you are on the “8” committee, doesn’t mean your voice weighs more than anyone else.
One final thought Ms. Matos, if you have to ask the question about how much stakeholder input in matters of education with the Delaware DOE count, you’ve probably already answered your own question.