After running some errands yesterday, I stopped by Legislative Hall in Dover. There was no particular reason for going. As the House Education Committee came out of their meeting, I was approached by State Rep. Earl Jaques. He asked if he could speak with me in his office. I immediately thought he was going to blast me for blasting him on this blog. This wasn’t the case.
Last Spring, right before the House voted on HB50 for the first time on May 7th, Earl approached me about changing provisions for students with disabilities when it comes to the state assessment. In 2014, Senator Nicole Poore brought Senate Bill 229 forward. Her bill, which passed, allowed for the most cognitively impaired students to take an alternate assessment in lieu of the state assessment. It was a bill I fully supported. It passed within days of the HB334, the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The law states this is for students who are “clinically incapable of producing valid results on a standardized assessment”. This is for a very limited number of students, usually 1%. These are children who don’t even have the ability to hold a pencil, or they are so challenged they can’t put words together. Earl told me he wanted to add more disabilities to that list. I advised him right then and there it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just pick disabilities and say this child has to take a test and this one doesn’t. He told me he wants to help out kids like my own. I advised Earl my son is very smart, but I don’t want him taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment. He told me to think about it and let him know.
A couple days later, I received an email from Earl:
Additions to SB 229
Based on our very short discussion, I was unaware that SB 229 didn’t cover all children with disabilities. I would like to do some legislation to add more disabilities that weren’t covered under SB 229. Could you send me your thoughts and a list of 6-7 disabilities that should be added first. I know that there probably is more than a half dozen that should be added. But if the list is too long then it will be harder to do. We will just keep adding as we move forward. Thanks!
I contacted Senator Poore the same day and advised her of Earl’s crazy idea. Bewildered, she didn’t know what he was talking about. I emailed Earl back and said I would do some research and get back to him. HB50 already passed the House, and by the end of June it passed the Senate. Governor Markell vetoed the bill in July, and it came up for a suspension of rules a couple weeks ago in the House, but the suspension was defeated. HB50 is now on the ready list to be heard in the House.
Back to Earl’s office. Earl begins by telling me he knows how passionate I am about opt-out. But he has been thinking about his idea last Spring. I told him again it wouldn’t work. He tells me not to be so sure about that. When Acting Secretary of Education John King came to Wilmington last week, Earl said he talked to King about this idea and King told him to send some more information on it. I’m not sure if King was supporting the idea, or just doing the “yeah, I’ll take a look at it” thing.
Earl proceeds to tell me House Bill 50 is dead. It isn’t going anywhere. I said “You mean it sits in Pete Schwartzkopf’s desk?” to which Earl nodded. We also talked about the House Republicans attempts at reviving opt-out legislation, and he said that isn’t going to do anything either. So he asks me to do some research on adding disabilities to Senate Bill 229. Again. I advised him Markell would never pass anything like that, but Earl tells me “maybe not”, knowing my next comment is going to be about the new Governor. Which I invariably brought up. I told him, “Carney”, to which Earl said “whoever it is, stranger things have happened”. So Earl wants me to research this option for different students with disabilities to be put into legislation that would get them out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Even though he has legal aides, the DOE at his beck and call, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (which has their own policy & law committee), and a host of state agencies that could provide information for him. But no, he wants the guy who lambastes him on his blog on a fairly consistent basis and who supports opt-out emphatically. As well, as the “architect” of this genius legislation, where I would be credited as the idiot who puts certain disabilities on a list and not others, I can hear the Civil Rights Groups knocking on my door in the future. Even if it didn’t happen, I would be the face behind judging what disabilities are “worthy” and which aren’t. An attempt to discredit me…
So I say to Earl, “Why don’t we just get rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment?” He tells me how expensive it was, and we would have to design a new test. In other words, it isn’t going anywhere (in his mind). He tells me how he didn’t want it two years ago, but he still voted yes on HB334. Earl wants me to do this work, for free, for him, to introduce legislation that I know will not do anything. But even worse, he wants me to betray the opt-out movement by getting me to work on this legislation. Had I agreed to do this thing for him, it would show my whole push for opt-out was only about students with disabilities and not all students. Keep in mind this is about a month and a half before the testing window opens up for the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
A year ago, when HB5o first came out, whenever I had “opt-out” in the title of one of my articles, it shot through the roof. People I never met or even heard of were contacting me. And then the Delaware PTA had their opt-out town halls. And it tripled. There were a few days there where I literally couldn’t go ten minutes without getting an email, phone call, or Facebook message about opt-out. Parents started opting out. Meanwhile, Earl and Markell were doing everything in their power to stop it. They couldn’t. Every time they mentioned the words, more parents wanted to opt-out.
If Earl wanted this to happen, it would happen. It would have already happened. He doesn’t need me to do this. Which tells me he is using me. He wants to distract me. Whether or not he has been instructed to do this or if it is just him, I don’t know. But I do know this: Earl is out of his mind if he thinks I would do this for him. Does he really think I would betray the parents of children who don’t have disabilities like that? He doesn’t get it. I want ALL students to not take Smarter Balanced. I want Smarter Balanced gone! But I am wise enough to know, like Earl said, it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Did he really think he could play me like that? That he could weaken me in the ashes of House Bill 50? I’ve already said on here that at this point it doesn’t matter. I am going to encourage every parent I can to opt their child out in the next month and a half. The only thing Earl accomplished was getting me to do it even harder than I already planned.
Earl is obviously getting concerned. He did inform me that he is running again for State Rep. this year. He is now known as the face of anti-opt-out in Delaware. He truly believes opt-out is dead and that my resolve is diminished. Guess again Earl! It is stronger than ever before! I’m sure we will see each other again Earl. I’ve already emailed the Governor, the Delaware DOE, Pete Schwartzkopf, and the US DOE about this. Maybe you meant well, but I doubt it. You can’t play me Earl. Better than you have tried. Since the first time you wouldn’t let me finish talking at the first House Education Committee meeting I attended, when the DOE was talking about ESEA flexibility waivers, I knew where your allegiances truly are. They aren’t with parents. They aren’t with students. They are with the Governor. Two weeks ago, you turned around in your seat and told Yvonne and Terri with the Delaware PTA “told ya” when the HB50 suspension of rules vote went down. But now you want me to help YOU? When you spat on parental rights with your condescending and smug attitude? If someone put you up to this, I will find out. Do not ever speak to me again about students with disabilities. You disrespect every single child who was born with a disability in this country Earl.
This is the email I sent to your buddies Earl:
From: Kevin Ohlandt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Schwartzkopf Peter (LegHall) <email@example.com>; Markell Jack <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <email@example.com>; “John.King@ed.gov” <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Johnson Donna R. <email@example.com>; “David.Sokola@state.de.us” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2016 10:24 PM
Subject: Opt-Out Clauses For Students With Disabilities
In 11 days, students in Delaware will begin the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This was voted into law through House Bill 334 last June by both the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate, and then signed by Governor Markell. I believe some of you thought you were doing the right thing. Others didn’t want to tick off the Governor who has made education his top priority. Some of you are actually a part of the corporate education reform movement in Delaware. A few of you felt manipulated and trapped because Secretary of Education Mark Murphy already bought the assessment for Delaware. And some of you wisely voted no, in both rounds of voting.
We now face another bill in the 148th General Assembly, closely tied to this assessment. A Parent Opt Out bill would legally allow parents to opt their child out of the state assessment. Many parents, including myself, feel this law would not change our Constitutional rights at all. But we are in agreement this would allow parents who are either too afraid to opt their child out or aren’t even aware of the possibility the ability to do so.
One of you publicly stated two nights ago to a room full of teachers this bill will not pass and you will not allow Delaware to give up Federal money. What this legislator fails to realize is Federal funds did not put him in his current position. Governor Markell didn’t put him there either. It was the people of Delaware, within his own district, who believed this man would rightfully serve their will and their needs.
In the coming months, children will take this test. Most of them will fail. This is not to say they won’t try their best, but the actual test is designed for this. It is intentionally supposed to be hard. This will continue for the next three years. Some parents in our state don’t even know what this test is. These are the parents who will be shouting at the top of their lungs in about four to five months when the scores come in. When their child’s scores come in and they are no longer proficient when they have been for the past few years. This is when all of you will be faced with a very large challenge.
Some will say “I never voted for this in the first place.” Others will say “I voted for it, and I’m sorry, but I realized the danger signs and voted for the parent opt out bill.” Then there are the rest of you. You are the ones who will be held accountable. It will be well-known at this point in time who allowed this to happen. Even the beloved charter school parents whom you have catered to with your legislative votes will no longer be patient with you.
2016 is not that far away. Some of you will be content, not facing re-election. For those of you who are hoping to stay in the General Assembly, or have aspirations for higher office, you need to make some choices now. The vast majority of your votes will comes from parents. They will remember the annual suffering their children had inflicted upon them. They will want to make a change. Nothing will cause parents to rise up more than watching their children suffer. They will not sit back and do nothing.
You should really watch what is happening in other states. Parents are outright refusing this test. Opt out are two words no longer said, it is REFUSE. They are angry, and going on TV, and putting up billboards. They are saying “No more!” While Delaware’s opt out movement may be seen as small and a temporary annoyance, I can assure you it is not. It is gaining traction every single day, every hour. It is spreading from Wilmington to the beaches. This is not civil disobedience. This is not parents flaunting the law and becoming activists. We are parents who care about our children and refuse to let them be guinea pigs.
You all need to remember this when you make blanket statements about parent opt out. You need to choose your words very carefully. You need to also realize saying nothing is the same as speaking out against it. This is not a subject you can sit on the fence about. If you truly believe this test is good for students, this is fair warning: those who put you in power can assuredly take you out. If you enjoy serving your constituents and helping to make laws for the citizens of the First State, remember this simple fact.