On September 7th, I filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. Even though I did receive the documentation for my original FOIA request regarding a contract that office entered into with Grant Thornton, it came very late. In fact, it came the day after a highly contested primary for the State Auditor position. But my FOIA complaint dealt with what I felt were illegal and unethical issues coming out of AOA. Continue reading Delaware Auditor of Accounts Office Violated FOIA According To Legal Opinion
The Delaware Department of Education’s Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting requested a legal opinion from the Delaware Department of Justice. She wanted to know if the Department could legally enforce local school districts to send non-minor capital improvement match tax funds to Delaware charter schools. What did the DOJ say? Continue reading Delaware Department Of Justice Weighs In On Charter Schools Keeping Certain Match Tax Funds
One way or another, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education will have a new board President tonight. Mike Piccio is gone. Usually, the President-Elect would naturally assume the role. Which would be Martin Wilson. But apparently some folks involved with the district are throwing around a very old allegation that Wilson doesn’t live in the nominating district he was elected from. I reached out to a few other folks who said this old chestnut is completely false and there are other factors at play.
My question would be “why is this coming up now?” I was directed to an old Kilroy’s Delaware article that is well over a decade old. I couldn’t find it. I believe Kilroy used BlogSpot before WordPress so they were purged a long time ago. But I did find an article from 2010 where Kilroy endorsed Wilson for his second run on the board. Wilson is African-American and with all the movement by this board about equity, it would be good to have an African-American President of the board.
It appears there are others on the Red Clay board who desire the President and President-Elect roles. And they haven’t exactly been quiet about this fact. I would say to these board members that if they want me to go after someone, they had best be able to provide proof of their allegation and contact me directly instead of sending someone else to do it. I don’t appreciate being used to stir up trouble where there is none. Cause that makes me wonder about the motivation by the person sent my way.
I don’t like political games like this. While a district school board isn’t exactly a big deal in the long run, in a state as small as Delaware and the fact this is coming from the largest district in the state which does wield a significant amount of influence on education, it makes me wonder why I would endorse these two members to have a leadership role on the board when they resort to petty parlor tricks like this. In the end, a district board president or vice-president simply leads the meeting and in some cases sets the agenda. It is a title role that looks pretty on paper and you might get a gavel depending on your district.
Oh, and if you want me to do a hatchet job on someone, do some homework first. This was already brought up in court and the judge ruled that Wilson could serve from this nominating district. Not that it is anyone’s business but Martin Wilson himself, but did any of these busybodies attempt to ask Wilson himself why he went before the court to get a ruling on this to begin with? Not my business to get that information out there because it is not their business. There is a fine line I will not go over with blogging and this is one of those situations. Wilson did his due diligence and that is ALL that matters.
If you are going to serve on a school board, I would stick to what school boards do: oversee a district in the best interests of children. Not this… never this. I might be a lot of things, but I do have integrity and I will not bury someone so someone else gets a little bit of power on a school board. If this destroys a friendship or an association, so be it. If you valued me in any way to begin with you wouldn’t have attempted this stunt so no loss on my part. And an FYI: I smelled the piranha in the kiddie pool immediately. Just be grateful I’m not saying YOUR names.
That didn’t take long! Yesterday, I received an email from the State Solicitor, Aaron Goldstein. This was in response to my assertion the Family Services Cabinet Council is a public body, subject to public meetings and FOIA. Which was based on research I did after the Attorney General’s office gave an opinion on my FOIA complaint to the Governor’s office about the council.
The heart of the issue stems around the disbursement of taxpayer funds. I alleged the council did just that based on what is written in Delaware state code. Specifically, §1605 of Title 14. But the State Solicitor did reference that section in his letter to me:
So this round goes to Governor Carney and the AG’s office. I still don’t agree with these glorified “staff meetings” being shut out of the public view, but until the laws surrounding Executive Privilege in Delaware change, the law is the law. Doesn’t make it a good law by any stretch of the imagination! I would think if you are going to all the trouble to make a “staff meeting” an actual council, you would look to see what is already in state code surrounding that very same council and solicit legislators to make changes around that language. But I guess that’s just me.
I sent an email to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and Governor Carney a few seconds ago alleging the legal opinion in regards to my FOIA complaint about the Family Services Cabinet Council was false in nature. Since the Council disburses funds, they fit the category of a public body.
§ 1605A Prevention component.
The Family Services Cabinet Council (Council), with the Department of Education and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families acting as lead agencies, shall administer a program to offer prevention-related student support services (prevention services) to students to prevent them from becoming discipline problems and from failing academically in our schools. Within the limits of appropriations made for this purpose, the Council shall provide rules and regulations for the award of prevention grants and the conduct of prevention programs authorized under this section, subject to the following limitations:
(1) The Council shall issue prevention funding to local school districts proposing to establish an integrated plan to deliver prevention services including, but not limited to, academic tutoring and student mentoring programs to provide at-risk students with the extra help they may need to succeed academically and with positive adult role models; outreach programs to promote parental, family and community involvement in students’ academic studies and in reducing and resolving school discipline problems; school-linked support services to help students with family or health problems that may be adversely affecting their academic performance and their conduct at school; training to help students and school personnel resolve conflicts peacefully and non-disruptively; and assistance to help teachers better manage the behavior of students in their classrooms.
(2) Applications for funding pursuant to this section shall be made by school districts in accordance with procedures and standards established by the Council. Each applicant shall set forth an integrated plan to provide prevention services consistent with paragraph (1) of this section. To avoid duplication of effort, maximize the impact of limited resources, and increase the effect of efforts by state, local, community and private, nonprofit agencies through increased coordination and cooperation, the Council shall give preference to applications which:
a. Are submitted by 2 or more school districts working in concert, where appropriate;
b. Include private, nonprofit agencies and community organizations as partners in the application, and identify the roles those agencies and organizations are to play in delivering prevention services in the community;
c. Indicate how grants from the federal government and foundations will be used or sought to help deliver prevention services in the community; and
d. Identify the roles state and local agencies are to play in delivering prevention services in the community.
(3) The Council shall provide technical assistance to districts preparing applications and ongoing assistance to districts awarded funding pursuant to this section.
(4) The Council shall establish a timetable for the award of grants pursuant to this section which shall provide, at minimum, for a period of 1 month for joint planning between the Council and the applicants that the Counsel selects as finalists eligible for a funding award. During such joint planning, the Council and the applicant shall refine the applicant’s prevention plan, ensure that the plan makes cost-effective use of the resources and services of state, local, community and private, nonprofit agencies, and consider the incorporation of successful elements of other districts’ prevention programs into the applicant’s plans. Final awards shall be made by the Council on or before January 15 of each year for the subsequent school year, contingent upon the appropriation of funds for such purpose in the annual appropriations act.
70 Del. Laws, c. 215, § 1; 71 Del. Laws, c. 180, § 92.;
any regulatory, administrative, advisory, executive, appointive or legislative body of the State, or of any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any board, bureau, commission, department, agency, committee, ad hoc committee, special committee, temporary committee, advisory board and committee, subcommittee, legislative committee, association, group, panel, council or any other entity or body established by an act of the General Assembly of the State, or established by any body established by the General Assembly of the State, or appointed by any body or public official of the State or otherwise empowered by any state governmental entity, which:(1) Is supported in whole or in part by any public funds; or
(2) Expends or disburses any public funds, including grants, gifts or other similar disbursals and distributions; or
(3) Is impliedly or specifically charged by any other public official, body, or agency to advise or to make reports, investigations or recommendations.
The Delaware Attorney General’s office released a Freedom of Information Act legal opinion today giving Delaware Governor Carney the right to use executive privilege for a council designed to improve family services in Delaware. In other words, they are allowed to hold non-public meetings and invite whomever they choose with no one the wiser. The Attorney General’s office agreed with Carney’s office because of a very bad “separation of powers” clause in state law. Continue reading Governor Carney’s Office Cites “Executive Privilege” With Family Services Cabinet Council FOIA Complaint
Yesterday, three Delaware State Representatives sent a letter to Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn. They are asking him for an Attorney General Opinion on HS1 for House Bill 85. Things just got very real with this legislation. If Reps. Potter, Bolden, and Kowalko didn’t do it, I would have suggested it. The five mile radius was bad enough. But then to purposefully select certain students from not being allowed to apply to a charter school in their own school district, that puts a very clear mark on this. It isn’t too late though. Delaware Senator David Sokola can choose to get on the right side of history and change the bill so Newark Charter School does take the Christina Wilmington students. Because anything else, under his prime directive, is outright discrimination and segregation. We all know it.
I will not bend to any political request on this legislation. I will not back away from what I originally published. To me, I could really care less about the politics. I don’t care if you are blue or red or purple. If folks want to put their name on this legislation, go right ahead. But I will not change my stance on this. Even if I admire and respect the hell out of some of you for various reasons and would fight like hell for bills that we do agree on, on this bill I will not budge. It is about doing what is right, for ALL students. Yes, the bill is progress, but not enough. We can agree to disagree on that. But I will not be party to political games and not publishing what I know in my heart to be true. It isn’t personal. It wouldn’t matter who sponsored this bill, I would feel the same way and I would have published the exact same article. Yes, I am aware some of the legislators flipped their vote because of how it would make them look. I am aware there was political fighting going on with this legislation. I was there for the whole thing. I opposed the bill when the House Substitute came in, and I made that very clear at the House Education Committee meeting when the bill was released. It isn’t a Democrat thing and it isn’t a Republican thing. It is a student thing. It is an equity thing. It is the right thing.
Appoquinimink does not want parent opt out at all. They don’t want parents talking about it with outsiders. Especially me. Parents are getting VERY upset and they have justification. I wrote about the latest intimidation tactics the district is taking earlier last week. It turns out that isn’t all they are doing!
Last Thursday, I spoke with the Public Information Officer for Appo, Lilian Miles. I advised her the Appo letter about opt out is very confusing to parents and it is hard for them to understand what it even means. Between the “absent” for the purposes of testing portion and the illegal portion with federal and state code with their glaring omissions surrounding parents, I told her they need to change the wording in the letter.
Lilian explained she understands but they are following the Delaware Department of Education’s suggested template. She was going to check with some district folks and get back to me. She asked which parents were coming to me about this. I advised her I didn’t feel comfortable giving out that information. Apparently, she didn’t like that.
From: Miles Lilian <Lilian.Miles@appo.k12.de.us>
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2016 1:12 PM
Subject: wording on letter
To: Miles Lilian <Lilian.Miles@appo.k12.de.us>
Cc: Denn Matthew (DOJ) <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Kowalko John (LegHall) <email@example.com>; Burrows Matthew L. <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <email@example.com>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2016 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: wording on letter
This hasn’t been discussed in mainstream media too much, but the Delaware Chancery Court just wrote a legal opinion concerning Red Clay’s last referendum. The Red Clay Consolidated School District wanted to case dismissed, but the Chancery Vice Chancellor Laster denied the dismissal on October 7th. The entire opinion can be read here. Keep in mind this is not an actual verdict, merely an opinion by a judge. Key highlights from this legal opinion are as follows:
Finally, to the extent this decision has erred by treating the Family-Focused Events as a reward for voting, at a minimum they were selectively targeted get-out-the-vote events designed to appeal to a readily identifiable group that Red Clay believed would support the tax increase. Viewed as such, the Complaint states a viable challenge under the Elections Clause to the Family-Focused Events. The Abbott decision stated that the purpose of the Elections Clause ―is to ensure that the right of citizens to vote in an election is unfettered.‖ 2008 WL 821522, at *19 (Del. Ch. Mar. 27, 2008.
The opinion goes into great detail about the events going on at various Red Clay schools the same day as the referendum.
Using the Family-Focused Events, Red Clay encouraged and facilitated voting by families with school-aged and pre-school-aged children. By doing so, Red Clay made the election unequal, not through traditionally negative means, but through positive means. Whether Red Clay‘s conduct went too far is necessarily a matter of degree, but for pleading-stage purposes, the plaintiffs have stated a claim under the Elections Clause.
The heart of the complaint behind this case was a woman brought her elderly parents to a school to vote. She claimed parking was a huge issue and there were empty school busses taking up spots. She claims her parents, who are disabled, were not given unfettered access to the polling booth.
Moreover, in the current case, Red Clay‘s selective get-out-the-vote efforts had negative effects on the elderly and disabled. As the Abbott decision recognized, a potential violation of the Elections Clause exists if the plaintiffs allege that ―their access to the polls was disturbed….‖ 2008 WL 821522, at *20.
Vice-Chancellor Laster denied the dismissal request by the Red Clay attorneys:
In challenging Red Clay‘s electoral interventions as a whole, the Complaint states a claim on which relief can be granted under both federal and state law. Red Clay‘s motion to dismiss is therefore denied.
The Vice Chancellor basically said if Red Clay does the Referendum again without some of the contested events taking place, and they have the same results, it would render the case moot.
Red Clay has the option of addressing the plaintiffs‘ contentions by returning to the electorate. This decision has concluded that the plaintiffs would not be able to state a claim for relief if Red Clay only engaged in certain types of conduct and avoided others, such as the Family-Focused Events and electioneering in close proximity to the voting rooms. If Red Clay called for a new special election and limited its electoral interventions, and if Red Clay‘s voters ratified the result of the February 2015 election by voting in favor of the tax increase, then this litigation would be moot.
This will certainly be an interesting case to watch if it does make it to trial. There was a lot of heat put on Red Clay based on the events of this referendum, and even though Attorney General Matt Denn did not find anything wrong, several Delaware legislators did. The final decision in this could change the way referendums in Delaware occur. Or maybe someone will finally get the good sense to do away with it for good!
Well this is interesting. Christina School District Board of Education has an opt-out policy in the works, similar to House Bill 50, and a district administrator goes and gets a legal opinion on it from their own attorney. Mother mercy, board member Elizabeth Paige, who worked very hard on this policy, will not be happy about this…
Okay Delaware parents who support opt-out. We’re going to play a game and see what you’ve learned. It’s called “Spot the Fallacies”. First one to get them all gets a no-prize!
I have submitted a request for a formal Attorney General Legal Opinion based on the Missouri Circuit Court ruling yesterday on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I have been told these types of requests by a citizen of Delaware are denied on the basis of standing, so I would welcome any elected official in Delaware to take up the baton in the event my request is denied.
- Denn Matthew (Attorney General)
- Williams Kimberly (LegHall)
- Siegel Kim (Lt Governor)
- Lawson Dave
- Kowalko John (LegHall)
- Murphy Mark
- Johnson Donna R.
- Matthew Albright
- Avi Wolfman-Arent
- Paul Baumbach
- Townsend BryanM
- Markell Jack
- John Young
- Kilroy’s Delaware
- Kavips World Press Blog
- Nancy Willing
- Pandora DeLib
- Terri Hodge
- Mike Matthews
- Jackie H. Kook
- O’Mara Lindsay (Governor)
- May Alison
“The DOE gave no compelling argument to have children take the test”
Last night’s Delaware Parent Teacher Association held their first of two Parent Opt Out Town Halls. The meeting was very controversial and heated according to most participants. The meeting, held at the Delaware PTA office in Bear, DE began at 5:30pm with about 60 participants. Over half were parents and the others were teachers, some of which served a dual role as both a parent and a teacher. A panel at the event included the following: News Journal education reporter Matthew Albright who moderated and asked the participant questions, Dr. Terri Hodges, President of the Delaware PTA, Yvonne Johnson, former PTA President, Bill Doolittle, President-Elect of the PTA, Frederika Jenner, President of the Delaware State Educators Association, Brian Touchette, the Director of Assessment at the Delaware Department of Education, and Shelley Rouser, the Director of K-12 Initiatives and Educator Engagement for the DOE. Members of the audience were given index cards to write questions on.
Jenner gave a presentation on the history of standardized assessments in Delaware and how they impacted students. Rouser informed the audience Jenner was her teacher when she was a child. Jenner clarified that “Key points were that while opt-out is the current action, the real goal we all share is to reduce the number of mandated tests, reduce the time dedicated to testing, reduce test prep except for what is agreed is really necessary to intro kids to new test, and to put testing in its proper place–not to rate and rank kids, educators, schools and certainly not to shame and blame.”
Jenner also said much of her presentation was based on questions surround lack of availability for other types of learning during the testing window. Libraries and computer labs will be used for the test, which will take away time when those services are needed. As well, she stated elementary school curriculum, which has become very narrow, is in danger of decline based on the testing environment in schools. She said in a recent Facebook post she is “not opposed to testing. Heck- teachers invented tests. What we want are tests that are valid, reliable, aligned to what we teach, and not invasive and predatory. We want time to teach and time to learn. This is not too much to ask for. The current regime of testing is not beneficial to children and other living things.”
Brian Touchette advised the audience he was approaching the meeting with a respectful tone and he expected the audience to do the same. Multiple participants claimed Touchette was very defensive in the beginning, but after many questions he appeared to become very flustered and answered many questions with “I don’t know”. Touchette told the audience that he understands they are not on the same side, but he did not want the yelling to continue.
Touchette presented the same statement from the DOE this blog put up yesterday which included Delaware state code from Title 14, Federal regulations, as well as multiple threats to funding from the United States Department of Education to the Delaware DOE, and from the Delaware DOE to the local school districts. He did, however, confirm to the public there are no consequences when a parent opts their child out for the student or the parent. The DOE has provided each school district with guidance to ensure that students who do not test will receive academic instruction. Sit and stare is not a policy in Delaware.
Terri Hodges, the Delaware PTA President, clarified that Federal law states Local Education Agencies must test 95% of all students in order to be compliant with No Child Left Behind or risk losing Federal funding. This is not the same as saying all students must test or that it is illegal for parents to opt their child out of the test. The PTA said the consequences are financial for the DOE and the school districts, and the districts do have financial back-ups if they fail to reach the 95% mark needed to validate the results of the assessment. The Delaware PTA felt the Delaware DOE will not concede on this point. Hodges stated the Delaware PTA talked with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn on this matter and he doesn’t feel it is illegal for a parent to opt their child out of the state assessment. The PTA is going to ask for a formal legal opinion on this matter.
Wendy Johnson, a teacher in the Christina School District, said “The DOE gave no compelling argument to have children take the test, beyond the penalties that were mentioned. Of course they never said it was money, they just used consequences and repercussions. When asked, they were forced to admit that the results had nothing to offer the student, teacher, or parent regarding the child’s ability to progress, but they hope to use the Smarter Balance for years to come so they can begin to collect that data.”
A parent from the Appoquinimink School District showed a letter she received from the district asking her to sign a letter acknowledging she is breaking the law by opting their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and this is illegal. The Delaware PTA is forwarding this letter to the Attorney General’s office as part of their legal opinion request. Bill Doolittle with the PTA said this could have been an earlier version of a DOE letter, before they offered the school districts further guidance. This blog contacted the Appoquinimink School District and spoke with Lilian Miles, the Public Information Officer for the district. She explained their letter is based on a Delaware Department of Education template they received and she would find out who the DOE representative was that provided this information to them. I reached out to the Delaware DOE Public Information Officer Alison May and left a message for clarification on this matter but at publication time I had not heard back from her.
As the meeting wound down, a man stood up and said he was an employee in the Brandywine School District. He explained there was a former teacher in the room who was wonderful. The man said something parents may not have taken into consideration when opting out is the negative evaluations teachers may receive as a result. He further clarified that “since we really love our teachers, do we really want to do that to them?” While no direct threat was made, many parents and teachers reported they felt threatened and intimidated by his statements.
Teachers in the audience apparently were very offended by these comments as well. Jennifer Twardowski, a teacher and member of the Christina Educators Association told the audience “If any of my parents are here, please do not worry about my evaluation. I will not take it personally if you opt out.” The teachers were told to stop shouting out but many teachers advised the man was given an opportunity to speak and they felt they should be afforded the same opportunity. The man was later identified as Brandywine Assistant Superintendent of Academics Lincoln Hohler. I left a message for Mr. Hohler, but I have not heard back from him, possibly due to the inclement weather Delaware is experiencing today, but the district office is open today.
Mike Matthews, President of the Red Clay Educators Association and a teacher at Warner Elementary School, said he left the State Board of Education meeting in Dover at 4:30 to get to the Town Hall. Donna Johnson, the Executive Director of the Delaware State Board of Education and a couple of members of the State Board were scheduled to attend the Town Hall, but Matthews said the State Board meeting wasn’t even halfway through their agenda by the time he left. He did say Johnson asked him to let the PTA know they apologized for not being able to make it. Matthews later said Johnson was very upset they were not there.
Hodges issued an official statement on behalf of the Delaware PTA over the controversial issue of parent opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
“We firmly believe in a parent’s right to choice whether it is on the location of the school or participation in the state assessment.
Based on all the information that has been presented so far (by the Delaware Department of Education and through our own research), we feel that parents do have the right to opt out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interests of their child.
Assessments can be a valuable tool if developed, implemented and used correctly, with the student in mind. We do not believe that is what we have at the moment.”
Hodges announced at the meeting she would be opting her own child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
The next Delaware PTA Opt Out Town Hall is at the Dover Public Library, 35 East Loockerman St. from 5:30 to 7:30pm on March 3rd. To register for the event, please go here: http://www.123contactform.com/form-1131334/Parent-Opt-Out-Town-Hall
**UPDATED, 7:15pm to include further details and comments from Frederika Jenner. Appoquinimink provided a copy of their letter to the parent, which can e seen here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/appoquinimink-school-district-responds-to-parent-opt-out-issue/
No response has been given by either Alison May with the Delaware DOE or Brandywine Assistant Superintendent Lincoln Hohler at this time.
It sure looks like it. Is that even legal? Wouldn’t the whole point about getting a legal opinion from an Attorney General’s office about another state department be they should not go to that other state department to get legal advice about the legal opinion they have been asked to provide about something coming from that state department? Is that the longest question I’ve ever typed in my life? (Yes) How corrupt is the Delaware state government? Does the United States Department of Justice need to be notified of this? Does the first email which specifically states “It is not a public document under FOIA” even count as “not an FOIA document” if it was included in an actual FOIA request? With the priority school decisions coming in early January, someone needs to look at the shenanigans the Delaware DOE, Delaware DOJ and Governor Markell’s office have committed in this quest. And there are still a lot of FOIAs left to come out that the state needs to provide which will give EVEN MORE answers! Read the below and see how our state operates!