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.

Red Clay Education Association Officially Supporting House Bill 50 Veto Override!!! And More!

While it isn’t the DSEA, the Red Clay Education Association officially voted tonight to support the House Bill 50 Veto Override.  Thank you the members of the RCEA for doing this.  The Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education passed a board policy honoring opt-out a couple months ago, so it looks like Red Clay supports opt-out all over the district.

Mike Matthews, the President of RCEA, just posted this on Facebook:

At tonight’s Representative Council, the Red Clay Education Association took an official position of support for the legislature to override Gov. Jack Markell‘s veto of HB 50, the Parent Opt Out Bill.

The rally the Delaware PTA is sponsoring will be held on Thursday, 1/14, at 1pm on the steps of Legislative Hall in Dover.  All parents and students are encouraged to attend to lend support.  As well, the Delaware PTA petition is still live:

https://www.change.org/p/delaware-state-house-vote-to-override-delaware-hb50-veto

State Rep. John Kowalko will be asking for a suspension of rules when the Delaware House of Representatives meets in legislative session on Thursday.  A suspension of rules, which would prevent House Bill 50 from going back to the House Education Committee led by State Rep. Earl Jaques, would open up House Bill 50 for a vote by the State Representatives.  If the suspension of rules doesn’t go through, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost.  It would be up to Jaques to allow the bill to be heard in the House Education Committee.  It would go through the same process as last Spring if it progresses from there: House Education Committee to Full House Vote to Senate Education Committee to full Senate vote, assuming it passed each step along the way.

This has been a very long journey for many of us supporting this bill, and probably for those who oppose it as well.  While some may question the importance of it, and why it is such a big deal, I would hope those people understand this bill is about student and parent rights.  I have heard someone say it is a waste of “political capital”.  I wouldn’t say that at all.  Every bill in the General Assembly is important to someone.  To myself, there are certainly matters (like the state budget) that take on more public importance than House Bill 50, but this one that hits very close to home for a lot of parents.

Opt-Out Heats Up Again During Arctic Chill

Here we go again!  The opt-out movement is back!  And smack dab in the middle of it all is Delaware’s 62 legislators in the House and Senate.  Matthew Albright with the News Journal wrote about the Veto Override of House Bill 50.  There are some great quotes in here… and then there is Earl…

“If you’re a Democrat, and the governor’s a Democrat, you have to think long and hard, ‘Do I want to override my governor?” said Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, chairman of the House Education Committee. “It has to be a really big issue for you to do that.”

Jaques was one of five representatives who voted against House Bill 50. He says parents already have the right to opt out, so he doesn’t understand the need for a new law.

Earl, Earl, Earl… when are you going to get what this is all about?  I’ve already put Earl in the no column on this.  I don’t expect him to change his vote at all.  There is no law when it comes to parents opting out, thus House Bill 50!!!  It protects the parents, but it is more than obvious Earl wants to side with the Governor.  Luckily, State Rep. John Kowalko is able to comment on this insanity with a breath of fresh air”

“If it’s a good policy, you voted for it because it’s a good policy,” Kowalko said. “That policy does not change its makeup just because the governor has decided that he doesn’t like it. If we start considering another branch of government as dictating to us how our decisions should be made, we are seriously compromising our rights as an independent body.”

State Rep. Mike Ramone is once again thinking this is all about the amount of testing kids take.  Mike, I’m going to tell you right now I have never once heard from any parent about any other test but the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Parents don’t want to opt out of any other test but the Smarter Balanced.  Once again, those who are pro “assessment inventory” are missing some basic facts.  When DCAS was around, it was taken two to three times a year depending on how the students did on the first Spring test.  If they didn’t hit proficiency, they had to take it again.  That’s when parents were talking about “too much testing”.  But what happens when we do get rid of the assessments that do matter in favor of SBAC and the interim assessments that accompany it?  Then you will have opt-out and NO assessments that give good feedback.  I am not anti-assessment.  Like the PTA, I support assessments that give timely feedback with a validated test.    I already gave my predictions on the final results for the Assessment Inventory Committee.  But Ramone… does he realize what House Bill 50 actually is?

Ramone also said he wants to see a statewide process for opting out, since the current rules are a patchwork of district-by district rules.

A statewide process for opting out?  It’s called House Bill 50.  It specifically states when schools would receive letters from parents and that students who are opted out need to receive another form of instruction.  Does he want us to do it through the DOE?  That would be a never-ending nightmare!  Let’s not muddy the waters any more Mike.  House Bill 50 is what it is.  You are either for parental rights or you’re not.  At the end of the day, this is what it all boils down to.  Something Delaware PTA President Dr. Terri Hodges agrees with:

“The message we’re trying to send is that parents and teachers and the community have spoken,” said Terri Hodges, the PTA’s president. “We are hoping our legislators honor the will of the people and follow their original vote.”

I am already hearing the DOE is talking about Smarter Balanced results coming in before kids leave school for summer.  I saw that one coming a mile away!  This will be another one of their attempts to dissuade legislators from voting for the override.  “Look, parents said they wanted quicker feedback.  We’re going to make that happen.”  But no matter when the results come in, we have to face facts.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a BAD test.  Period.  I am all for getting rid of SBAC for high school juniors.  But I am also for getting rid of it for ALL Delaware students. Until that happens, parents will opt out, and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it.  Yes, the legislators do need to look at the reasons why.  I won’t disagree with that.  But talking about it doesn’t do anything for parents.  The legislators who voted for the Smarter Balanced Assessment knew there were issues with it.  But they voted it in anyways.  This is the consequence of that action.  Yes, Murphy already bought the test.  We all know that.  But look at the results.  Has it changed anything for our students?  Not really.  It has brought disruption and chaos to our children’s education.  The only ones who support this assessment are the very ones who seem to profit, whether financially or through an illusion of success by having “great scores”.

As for the infamous letter the ten Democrats sent Governor Markell about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment, this is NOT their idea.  The Delaware DOE has been talking about this publicly since last May.  The College Board is redesigning the SAT to be more like the Smarter Balanced and make it all about the Common Core.  So guess what, it’s not like it will be that much of an improvement.  Can’t wait to see those SAT scores on top of Delaware’s already horrible scores.

This is a bill that comes down to basic and fundamental parental rights.  Meanwhile, over 200 parents have already signed the Delaware PTA Petition.  More will sign as well before it is all said and done.  This is a battle parents aren’t giving up on.  We won’t stop until our rights are protected.  I am frankly shocked that some legislators would rather see parents fighting with schools than overriding a ridiculous veto by a Governor who is so entrenched in corporate education reform he can’t see the forest from the trees.

Parent Opt-Out Veto Override Rally 1/14/16, I Know What You Have Been Up To Governor Markell

The Delaware PTA is hosting a parent rally at Legislative Hall in Dover on January 14th, at 2pm.  This event is changed from January 12th.  Please make every effort to attend: parents, students, citizens, teachers, administrators, superintendents, charter heads, and anyone else you can think of.  The latest bomb from the US DOE about opt-out is a slap in the face of every single parent of a child in public school America.  We need to make this standardized high-stakes testing madness stop.  Take off work that day, bring your kids, and support the God-given, fundamental and constitutional rights of parents.  This is YOUR moment.  Do not let it pass.  For school employees, bring the students on a field trip that day and show them how democracy in America works best.  This is about parents rights, pure and simple.  This is not a civil rights issue.  If anything, the Smarter Balanced Assessment has proven how disgusting and vile one test can cause illusions and perceptions about students who have the most needs for instruction.  And if you are the parent of a brilliant child who did great on the test, that is excellent.  Your child is going to be brilliant either way and doesn’t need this money-wasting time-consuming test to tell you what you already know.

I’VE HEARD FROM SEVERAL FOLKS THAT GOVERNOR MARKELL IS CALLING ALL OF THE HOUSE REPS AND ASKING FOR THEIR SUPPORT IN NOT VOTING YES TO THE OVERRIDE OF HOUSE BILL 50.  While everyone who told me this asked me not to share it, and I pretended with each one this was the first time I heard it, it is far too many for my comfort zone.  Jack Markell is telling legislators about how it would be so disrespectful to his office if they override HIS veto.  Sorry Jack, this is not YOUR bill.  This is not YOUR decision.  Our legislators sided with parents over your diabolically insane testing mentality.  You are a bully.  You do not care about parents.  How many of your children took the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  We both know the answer to that one!

FOR OUR DELAWARE LEGISLATORS: If you vote no to the veto, you are nothing more than a bully.  You are a pawn of Governor Markell and you care more about disrespecting one already disrespectful person than thousands of your constituents.  You serve Delaware.  The People of Delaware.  Not Jack Alan Markell.  The people.  A no vote on the veto could very well cost you your re-election if you are up again next year.  And if you aren’t running or don’t face the ballot until a later date, good luck getting any support from the thousands of Delaware parents who have been spit on, disrespected, bullied and intimidated.  I know for a fact some of you have already given your support to Jack on this issue.  I would think long and hard about that costly mistake if I were you.  Republicans and Democrats alike.  This is not the time for you to lend support to a failed Governor on education.  Seven out of twelve states who received the latest US DOE threat letter were Smarter Balanced Assessment states.  Do more than override the veto. Get rid of Smarter Balanced, and come up with a meaningful and productive assessment for our students without all the strings attached.  We don’t need to hire outside consultants and companies to do this.  We don’t need to spend tens of millions of dollars to do this.  We have the teachers and educators in our very own state to come up with something better for our children.  And as for you John Carney, you need to get your head out of the clouds and oppose Markell’s bullying tactics.  Loudly and clearly.  Stop being quiet on everything and just assuming you are a shoe-in on Election Day.  That is weak and tiring, and Delaware deserves better than that.

FOR GOVERNOR MARKELL: Do you hear that?  That is the sound of parents becoming more important than you.  That is the sound of the legislators in your state supporting those same parents and honoring their rights.  It rang like a bell on June 25th when the Delaware Senate cleared the final passage of House Bill 50, and it will ring again when they override your veto.  This is your legacy.  This is your thumbprint on Delaware: causing parents to rise in opposition to a tyrannical eight years of you.  We are done with you.  We are casting you aside and praying the next one is infinitely better.  For all the talk you had about education, you are no better than a school yard bully taunting those you believe are weaker than you.  We are stronger than you and we will show you once and for all how much stronger we are.  We know you taunt and tease our legislators with threats about not supporting this bill or that bill, or how you use your executive power to make promises when it comes to the budget.  We know you allowed Rodel to use their influence so you could hand-pick your leaders in the Delaware DOE and your unelected members of the State Board of Education.  We know which legislators are in your pocket.  No more.  Your power is waning and you know it.  Instead of succumbing to the will of the people you actually think exerting more power will make people listen.  No.  You are done.

As a state, we need to STOP making every single education decision that is surrounded by the measurements of standardized assessments.  The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission is doing it.  Our schools do it.  Our DOE certainly does it.  Our businesses aligned with Markell and Rodel do it.  Enough.  What about YOUR child.  What about their INDIVIDUAL rights?  Do they mean anything anymore?