“Not My Circus Not My Monkeys”

A couple of days ago I posted an article about an email sent to staff at Delaware Design-Lab High School. In the email, the Interim Director referred to the school as a circus and the students as monkeys. I posted an article and I felt it had a tint of racism to it. At the time, I was 100% unaware that her phrase was a remake of a famous phrase from an old Polish proverb. This proverb generated the phrase “Not My Circus Not My Monkeys”. Which means “not my problem”. However, the email flipped it around by saying it was their circus and the students were their monkeys.

In another email I posted in the same article, a former staff member alleged the school was not hiring anyone but Caucasians to replace staff that left and the school was targeting certain zip codes to recruit students.

I still think referring to your school as a circus and your students as monkeys is a bit odd, but because of this famous phrase (which I never heard of until pretty much everyone on Facebook told me immediately after) I am not alleging the phrasing was racist any longer.

Now the staff hiring and targeted zip codes for recruitment… that I have some issues with. Just wanted to get this out there to be fair.

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Which Delaware Charter School Leader Called Their Students Something From An Old Polish Proverb?

A Delaware charter school leader sent an email about student climate and discipline to their staff in April.  While I understood some of the leader’s concerns, referring to your students as monkeys in a circus is probably not the wisest thing to say in this day and age.  If you don’t believe me, ask Roseanne Barr.  Even if it could possibly be explained in any context,  (see “Not My Circus Not My Monkeys” for why this is crossed out) another email sent from a former staff member only cements the racist tone of the school leader given what the school has been doing gave me some heartburn because of what it suggests. Continue reading

The Discussion About Racism Is Important But So Is The Tone. Tales From A Red Clay Board Meeting.

Last week, at the Red Clay Board of Education meeting, a huge and heated conversation took place about the lack of diversity at Cab Calloway School of the Arts.  It turned into something ugly and what I would not expect from a sitting board member. Continue reading

The Roseanne Barr Racist Tweet Is A Perfect Time To Discuss Racism But Let’s Not Forget Who We Are And Let’s Stop With The Absolutes

Unless you have lived in a cave the past three days, ABC canceled the popular Roseanne revival after she wrote a tweet about former President Obama’s aide Valerie Jarrett claiming she is a mix of The Muslim Brotherhood and an ape.  I put a post of an article on my Facebook feed and the comments on it continued from both sides over the next day. Continue reading

Poll On Caesar Rodney High School Rider Mascot

Caesar Rodney Community In Shock Over Racial Situation

Caesar Rodney School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald sent out an email and robo-call to parents and staff last evening about a racial epithet in connection with the Caesar Rodney mascot.  It appears, based on Facebook comments on their Facebook page, that someone photo-shopped the racial slur on a sign the mascot was holding in a picture.

Many parents thanked the district for taking such swift action on the issue.  The message sent out by Fitzgerald said the following:

STATEMENT FROM DR. FITZGERALD

The Caesar Rodney School District has been made aware of a picture that is being distributed through social media in which the Rider Mascot is holding a piece of paper with a racial slur.

The Caesar Rodney School District is distressed that our mascot would be used in such a manner and we strongly disavow the statement.

The Caesar Rodney School District and Caesar Rodney High School consider racial slurs reprehensible and are deeply disturbed by the content of this message.

We have zero tolerance for this behavior.

This matter is being investigated by the high school administration with the assistance of the Delaware State Police.

While I am a Dover High Senators fan, I do not condone this at all.  As I wrote on CR’s Facebook page, if this was a joke it isn’t funny.  If it was meant to be a hate symbol, may God have mercy on your soul.  Bottom line, people need to wake up.  It’s the 21st Century now.  We aren’t supposed to be this backwards.  But apparently some have not woken up from our country’s own dark history and think it is okay to call African-Americans by disparaging names.  Frankly, I’ve had enough of hate and the talk that accompanies it.  We saw the worst in hate last Sunday with the Las Vegas shootings.  This is the kind of news I hate to write about.

One commenter suggested getting rid of the Rider Mascot for a while until feelings calm down.  That is the absolute worst thing to do in my opinion.  That lets whoever did this win.  It’s like the old saying, “you don’t negotiate with terrorists”.  You certainly don’t give in to hate!

2017 Stats To Date And What Is Coming

2017 has been an odd year for Exceptional Delaware.  There has been a ton of transition, between a new Governor, a new Delaware Secretary of Education, and very peculiar budget issues plaguing Delaware schools.  But the biggest post by far has been a recent one about a particular charter school in Newark and their 5 mile radius.

Top 17 Posts of 2017 So Far:

  1. Newark Charter School Doesn’t Want Wilmington Black Kids Or Wilmington Special Needs Kids Going To Their Private School
  2. Thom Labarbera, Brandywine Social Studies Teacher, Passes Away
  3. Delaware Racism: It Is Real And It Is Not Going Away
  4. Racial Slurs Appear To Go Unpunished For DE Military Academy While A.I. DuPont Basketball Team Suspended For Rest Of Season
  5. What To Make Of Bad News Betsy’s Letter About ESSA To Chief State School Officers
  6. Silence Is Complicity: Human Sex Trafficking In Delaware and How I-95, Craiglist, Backpage, & Kik Make It Thrive
  7. Delaware Joint Finance Committee Cuts State Board of Education From State Budget, DONE!!!
  8. Wahl v. Brandywine Case Settles! Justice For Joseph & An End To Zero Tolerance In Brandywine!
  9. Jack Markell Under Investigation By Ed Authorities ***DEBUNKED***APRIL FOOL’S DAY***
  10. 77 Teachers On The Chopping Block For Christina School District, Increased Classroom Sizes As Well!
  11. Not A Good Day For Christina
  12. **UPDATED**Christina Public Comment By Board Member Alleges Involvement Of Other Board Members In Hate Emails
  13. Final Delaware 2017 School Board Filings
  14. Exceptional Delaware Endorsements For 2017 School Board Elections
  15. Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new” Federal and State voucher/choice policies
  16. Cut The Admins In Districts & Schools? How Many Are There? TONS!
  17. Exceptional Delaware Endorses John Marino For The 10th Senate District

Like I said, this has been an odd year.  Because of so many changes, I’ve found that some folks I allied with on just about everything have shifted somewhat in their line of thinking.  We still agree on a lot of the old stuff (Common Core, Opt Out) but the lines have gotten very blurry in some areas.  I endorsed John Marino in the 10 Senate District Special Election and caught holy hell for it.  Issues involving racism filled up three of the top four articles.  My first foray into Human Sex Trafficking yielded a lot of reads.  The month of May has been the biggest month so far this year.  Between the school board elections, budget cuts, and the infamous HS1 for House Bill 85, over 50,000 people visited the blog this month.  7 out of 17 articles are from May.  An April Fool’s Day joke apparently fooled many people judging by Jack Markell’s place on this list.

Expect the unexpected in the month of June.  I can tell you now a lot of articles will be about the state budget, the effects it will have on Delaware schools, and the shenanigans down at Legislative Hall.  It will culminate on June 30th/July 1st as the legislators try to get it all done so they can have their long 4th of July weekend.

I’ve had more than my usual requests lately for writing about certain things.  I’m actually going to hold off on some of those until July.  The main reason for that is due to the state budget sucking up all the oxygen in the room.  I have a couple articles where people want to talk about new ideas for education but all any school district or charter really cares about now is the budget and what impact it is going to have on them.  If the State Board of Education is truly done, there are going to be a ton of legislation dealing with that.  The most controversial two words between now and the end of June: Epilogue Language.

If you want to help this blog, please go here and if you have the means and are able to help out, I would be forever grateful!  And a huge thank you to those who have chipped in.  I was talking to someone last night about how I am the last of the education bloggers in Delaware (without an agenda).  We were discussing if someone else is going to enter the rat race.  Who will be the next Delaware education blogger that churns stuff out?  Can’t wait to meet you!

 

**UPDATED**Christina Public Comment By Board Member Alleges Involvement Of Other Board Members In Hate Emails

I don’t normally take down blog posts.  I have sometimes done so in the past, but it is not the norm.  I have received information in the past that I have never written about since it was a matter best dealt with by the authorities.  Given that the matter I wrote about in this article is potentially a part of a current police investigation, I have chosen to take the post down.  If I feel the situation bears putting it up again, I will certainly do so.  Thank you for understanding.

 

 

Delaware Racism: It Is Reality And It Is Not Going Away

Racism in Delaware is very real. We saw it clearly with the situation at a Delaware Military Academy basketball game.  Alleged racial slurs were yelled out by DMA students.  When the A.I. Dupont High School basketball team was told to stay in their chairs after the game, members went to go towards the seats where they heard the horrible words.  No adult will come forward about this and use honor instead of protecting their charter school.  Why?

Racism is rampant in Delaware.  Our media, especially The News Journal, does not do enough to curb this.  Every time they post any article about issues that could possibly involve race, the hatred pours out in their comments.  Perhaps they remove these but they have no filters whatsoever to prevent words like nigger being thrown out there.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this comment from their poll last night about the DMA/AI incident:

delawareracism

I don’t condone the use of that word by anyone, whether they are black or white.  It is a word from history that signifies a time when black people were owned by white people.  I don’t believe any race or culture should own the word.  It is ugly and full of hatred.  We all bleed the same blood.  We all smile the same smile and we all shed the same tears.  Maybe because I was raised in a home where the value of respecting others was instilled in me at a very early age is the reason I can’t even fathom this kind of hatred.

President Trump, for all his faults, does not bring out this kind of hatred in people.  It is there and always has been.  There are those who may not like the words but fail to do anything about as evidenced by this comment from a DMA parent:

dmaparent

Fear of retaliation.  I’ve heard those words so many times to justify bad decisions in others.  If you find those words unacceptable then do the right thing and speak up.  What kind of message are you sending your child?  That it is okay for others to say things that are unacceptable in today’s society?  That adults can act just as bad as kids which further perpetuates racism?  Speak up parent!  By hiding things and covering them up, you are teaching your own child that it is okay for these things to happen.  It is not okay.  It is not right.  Your job as a parent is to prepare your child for adulthood and instill in them a sense of right and wrong.  We all want to protect our children, I get that.  But if doing it has a cost that could make anyone think certain things are okay are you really doing your job as a parent?  If administrators allow this to continue, what does that say about the school you chose to send your child to?  Taking away a senior night, which is the first I’ve heard of any punishment for DMA students, is not enough.  If this indeed happened, that would indicate wrong-doing on the DMA team and cheerleaders.  If no racial slurs were thrown out, why a punishment at all?

Schools like Delaware Military Academy, Charter School of Wilmington, and Newark Charter School all have very low African-American populations compared to the schools around them.  Some have even suggested they allow this culture of racism to continue so they get more white students.  This furthers segregation in Delaware, especially around Wilmington.  If these charters truly cared about diversity, they would do something about it.  Instead, we get long drawn-out essays, significant expenses surrounding school uniforms and sports, and specific interests that dissuade low-income families and minorities from even applying.  Despite the many who have called them out on this, our General Assembly turns a blind eye to this and allows this to continue.  Despite federal guidance suggesting any specific enrollment should be designed to let students with the highest needs in.

Did the A.I. DuPont H.S. coach do the right thing?  Many have suggested he did.  By suspending the team for the rest of the season he sent a message that despite what others say reacting to it can only make the situation worse.  But what about those players who are being called one of the most vile words in existence?  The News Journal wrote an editorial and said the coach made the right decision.  However, they did not mention one word about the alleged racial slurs.  To me, that word is meant to strip away the humanity from a person and make them feel like less then a human being.  Even though the above comment no longer appears in the comments of a poll they put up last night they allowed it to go up.  Even by putting a poll up to see if the coach did the right thing without all the information conveyed to those answering the poll, they are slanting the issue.

Delaware is an odd state.  We are a state between the south and the north.  One only needs to look at the riots in Wilmington in the 1960s to see Delaware’s history with race issues.  We still struggle with this in the present.  Generations of hatred against black people still exist to this very day.  But no one wants to really bring it out in the open.  Those of us who try are chastised and told to shut up.  That we have no idea what we are talking about.  But it continues, every day.  Every time we allow any institution to further issues of race, we are allowing the problem to continue.  Any time we allow a school, a building of education, to not have student populations that match the local area, we are letting it happen.

The charter schools I mentioned were a cure for not-so-wealthy parents of white students who couldn’t afford to send their kids to private schools.  They didn’t want their kids in “those” schools so some of our legislators created the perfect situation: schools with predominant white populations and barriers that effectively prevented “those” kids from even getting into that system.  And many parents rushed towards the opportunity.  Attack one of those charters and the parents will come out in full force to defend the school with a “How dare you” attitude.  They will defend these institutions that further discrimination at the cost of their own souls.  They don’t even see they are doing it.

Any person who makes themselves better than another with words designed to hurt someone based on race, gender, disability, age, or social status is discriminatory.  They are racist.  They are advancing their old-world vision on present-day society.  Anyone who fails to speak out about these things happening is living in a fear basket cuddled up in a blanket called enablement.  You are allowing this to continue.  You are just as bad.  If your child was given a hard time at school would you not speak up for them?  Most of us would.  We wouldn’t worry about fear of retaliation because it is the right thing to speak up for your child and advocate for them when they are unable to.  So why would you not speak up when you see your child’s environment is hostile and ugly?  That can be just as damaging as any situation where someone comes after your child.  You are failing as a parent when you don’t speak up about injustice.  If we all did that when we should, there wouldn’t be so much injustice.  It would send a clear message that this will not be tolerated.  It is unacceptable.  We will not be a victim to your cruel words and hatred.

Children are the most susceptible and vulnerable population in this country.  They absorb what is around them.  If parents show racism as issues at the dinner table or use words to describe people that are not good, kids pick up on it and at a very early age.  It becomes part of their personality.  It goes both ways with race.  Putting down the white man in front of your kids can elicit the same behaviors in kids.  I go back to “Remember The Titans”.  If it really went down that way, I don’t know.  It had to have been “Disneyfied” to some degree.  But the message is clear: when we band together we are all one.

I am not afraid to speak out.  I will not stop defending the rights of any human being on this planet.  And you can throw all the stones in the world at me but I will not let your cowardice stop me.  This is why I loathe the use of high-stakes standardized testing in schools.  It is just another system that puts up divides instead of unity.  Far too many parents say “I don’t want my kid going to that school.  Look at their test scores”.  And they cycle continues.  For the Delaware racists, you know who you are.  You know what you harbor in your innermost thoughts.  You may think you are right.  You may go to church on Sundays and count your blessings.  You may believe you have the might of angels behind your beliefs.  But what you lack in humility and grace takes all of that away.  As for media like The News Journal, telling half a story isn’t addressing any issue.  Covering up things that went down and hiding behind “accounts on social media” as if that whitewashes what really went down is not journalism.  It is cowardice.

Almost a day since I broke this story, DMA Commandant Anthony Pullella has not responded to my request for information about this incident.  I can’t say I’m surprised.  Many charter schools like to live in their own bubble and want to ignore the outside world.  As if they are the beacon of society and can do no wrong.  Why shouldn’t they think that?  Our own state government has allowed them to thrive in that belief.  Our legislators can sit in their legislative chambers and condemn actions that took place 150 years ago but when the time comes for them to address the true issues that are perpetuating racism, discrimination, and segregation in our state, far too many of them do nothing.  Especially when it comes to education.  There are those who will fight on these issues, reps like Kim Williams, John Kowalko, and others.  But they do not hold the majority.  All too often, bills are saturated with words that eventually continue Delaware’s backwards slide into racism.  Some don’t even realize this at the time.  Critics of issues involving racism and discrimination are all too often marginalized in this state.  Our issues become back burner because money and power have the influence in Dover, not what is right.  It becomes politics, not morality and doing what is right.

Unless you have been spoken down to like you are less than you are as much as African-Americans have in our very racist state, how can you effectively say you are right?  Have you ever walked in the shoes of someone who has been demeaned and humiliated?  If the answer is no, then kindly shut up.  We don’t want your hatred spewing out of your mouth.  I will never condone violence as a response to hatred.  It does nothing except make the situation worse.  But to point out the potential of violence without addressing why it got to that point is highly irresponsible.

 

 

January Shuffle 2.0

I did this a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed it so much I thought I would do it again.  So here we go! Continue reading

The Bizarre Death Threat Against Jack Markell

A man from Warwick, MD was arrested yesterday based on a Facebook death threat he made against Delaware Governor Jack Markell and a female from Middletown, DE.  Roger Matthews was charged with Threatening the Life of a Public Official according to the Delaware State Police Newsroom.

The specific threat has not been released.  I was able to view Roger Matthews Facebook account as it appears to be public.  If you go to that link, I would not classify it as safe for work.  The Delaware State Police mentioned the death threat was from November 6th but I was not able to see this on Waters’ Facebook account.  There was, however, a reference to Markell on an October 31st post.  In the very twisted post, Matthews claimed to “have dirt” against Markell involving the Amazon warehouse in Middletown and that Markell sent the Delaware State Police to assassinate his son.  He also alleged that the Amazon building was “built to fall down“.  There is a very specific death threat against Markell in the post but since there is so much foul language and hatred in the post I will not post it here.  But judging by the many other posts on his account, this is a very disturbed man with many issues.  The Middletown woman, who is somehow related to a relative of Matthews did not have her name released.

Waters shared the below photo on Monday which had over 800 comments on it regarding the right to bear arms.  He also seems to have a very deep hatred of Muslims based on his posts.

934090_1182209525199200_58435751291387382_n

I sincerely hope this man gets the help he very desperately needs.  While I am certainly not one of Markell’s biggest fan, threatening anyone on social media can get you arrested.  But a death threat against a public official is serious business.  Whatever grievance someone may have against another human being, wishing death upon them is not the answer.  I can’t imagine it would be easy for Markell or his family seeing this information.  I would not wish that on anyone.

Some things in this world are just disturbing on many levels, and this is one of them…

 

 

The Test Made For White Kids, Not Black Kids

I get it now.  A few months ago I was discussing parent opt out with an African-American friend of mine.  He explained to me that African-American students don’t do well on standardized tests because they’re written for white kids.  I disagreed with him.  I couldn’t grasp what was right before my eyes.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment was made for white kids.  Civil rights groups, usually backed by the Gates Foundation and other corporate education reformers, claim high-stakes standardized tests are important.  They say they need to understand where African-American students rank compared to their peers.  This only perpetuates the myth that these tests are necessary.  These groups vehemently opposed parents opting out of these tests because they claimed it would only continue pathways to discrimination.  Instead, the reality is staring them right in the face.  Standardized tests do show achievement gaps.  But not because they offer any solutions on how to close those gaps, but because they were written for a specific audience.

These tests fail to understand different minorities or cultures.  They were created from a white culture perspective.  They ask students to push themselves based on standards that don’t address poverty, low-income, special needs, violent environments, discrimination, segregation, or equity.  Even for white students, many who also deal with issues of low-income in our country, don’t perform well on these tests unless they are from more affluent areas.

DECharterAfrAmerVsSBACProf

Charter Schools were supposed to be the savior of education.  They were supposed to offer unique new ways of educating students and be models of innovation.  Instead, at least in Delaware, they have served as incubators of discrimination, segregation, and racism.  We can’t ignore this fact any longer.  We have to address this as a state, head-on.

DESchoolDistrAfrAmerVsSBACProf2016

In all likelihood, our charters are merely copying what happens in our regular districts.  We see that African-Americans in our traditional school districts do not fare any better on these tests.  Charter schools and districts with higher populations of white students do better on standardized tests.  This fact hasn’t escaped those who create these tests.  They know this.  Our politicians and education leaders know this as well.  This story isn’t new, nor is it shocking.  They have known this ever since standardized tests came about.  But we expect African-Americans to perform the same as their white peers.  If they don’t, our governments will label and shame the schools and teachers that administer these tests.  Why?  What is the point?

Education improvement programs make lots of money.  If a school isn’t converted into a charter under the accountability schemes brought to you by Education Inc., you better believe some company out there stands to make a tidy profit off “fixing” the “problem”.  In Delaware alone, a company called Mass Insight was paid $2.5 million dollars to help out six “priority schools”.  All inner-city schools with, you guessed it, very high populations of African-American students.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell said the Smarter Balanced Assessment is the best test Delaware ever made.  If that is true, then it shows Delaware to be a very racist state because we allow this to continue.  Our Department of Education can throw out statistics and graphs until we are blue in the face, but the true facts are above, and in the article I did on low-income populations and Smarter Balanced proficiency.  I have no doubt students will gradually do better on these tests.  But not enough to give them the education they deserve.  Not enough for African-Americans to catch up to their Caucasian peers.  This isn’t defeat.  This isn’t accepting a status quo.  This is reality.  A test solely designed for one pre-dominant culture under the assumption that other sub-groups will catch-up is always destined for eventual failure.  Do we call that now?  Or do our policy-makers only look at the cost of the test and not the cost to the children of their state?

For parents of African-American students: How many pictures that show the same thing do you need to see?  Why are you continuing to let your children take a test that forces them to work harder to live to a different ideal and culture?  I’ve seen some of you point out that your children have predominantly white teachers.  If our schools and teachers are judged on a test that is written for white kids, and a white teacher is teaching a majority of African-American kids in a classroom, what do you think the results are going to show?  This test serves a dual purpose: to keep African-Americans down and to push those unionized white teachers out of public education.  If you want more African-American teachers in the future, how will today’s African-American youth even feel inspired to go into education when they are constantly told they are failures based on these tests?  These same tests that will eventually break down and morph into end of chapter tests, taken by students multiple times throughout the year.  This is not about helping students to become “college and career ready”.  It is an elaborate and long-term tracking system.  Think about it, and opt out until those in power change these pictures.  Look at those in your community who want this.  Follow the money.  Who are they speaking for?  Corporations or children?

President Obama Gave The Eulogy Of A Lifetime In Dallas

As I was surfing through my home page on Facebook this morning, I came across various mentions of President Obama’s eulogy for the five fallen Dallas police officers murdered last week in a moment of extreme violence in retaliation to the killing of two other men many miles away.  Between all the Pokémon Go memes and the pictures of various families during their summer trips, something nagged at me to read the speech.  Finally, I saw a post by Tony Allen, the Chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission who posted the speech.  I sat on my porch, reading the whole thing, my eyes bursting to tears.  I will confess I’m not always the biggest Obama fan.  I have not liked his education policies at all.  But he gets it.  He understands the true meaning of what happened last week.  He echoed the same words I wrote in a reply to a friend’s post last night that we will heal through our actions, not our words.  I wanted to post the entire speech as well.  I’m sure it is all over the place, but I wanted to get it on my blog.  As a memorial for the five Dallas police officers, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile.  Thank you President Obama, for finding the right words to say in a troubling time in American history.  Thank you as well to Tony Allen, who deserves far more credit than he gets for trying to make Wilmington, Delaware a better place!

Mr. President and Mrs. Bush; my friend, the Vice President, and Dr. Biden; Mayor Rawlings; Chief Spiller; clergy; members of Congress; Chief Brown — I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder — (laughter and applause) — but most of all, to the families and friends and colleagues and fellow officers:

Scripture tells us that in our sufferings there is glory, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Sometimes the truths of these words are hard to see. Right now, those words test us. Because the people of Dallas, people across the country, are suffering.

We’re here to honor the memory, and mourn the loss, of five fellow Americans — to grieve with their loved ones, to support this community, to pray for the wounded, and to try and find some meaning amidst our sorrow.

For the men and women who protect and serve the people of Dallas, last Thursday began like any other day. Like most Americans each day, you get up, probably have too quick a breakfast, kiss your family goodbye, and you head to work. But your work, and the work of police officers across the country, is like no other. For the moment you put on that uniform, you have answered a call that at any moment, even in the briefest interaction, may put your life in harm’s way.

Lorne Ahrens, he answered that call. So did his wife, Katrina — not only because she was the spouse of a police officer, but because she’s a detective on the force. They have two kids. And Lorne took them fishing, and used to proudly go to their school in uniform. And the night before he died, he bought dinner for a homeless man. And the next night, Katrina had to tell their children that their dad was gone. “They don’t get it yet,” their grandma said. “They don’t know what to do quite yet.”

Michael Krol answered that call. His mother said, “He knew the dangers of the job, but he never shied away from his duty.” He came a thousand miles from his home state of Michigan to be a cop in Dallas, telling his family, “This is something I wanted to do.” Last year, he brought his girlfriend back to Detroit for Thanksgiving, and it was the last time he’d see his family.

Michael Smith answered that call — in the Army, and over almost 30 years working for the Dallas Police Association, which gave him the appropriately named “Cops Cop” award. A man of deep faith, when he was off duty, he could be found at church or playing softball with his two girls. Today, his girls have lost their dad, for God has called Michael home.

Patrick Zamarripa, he answered that call. Just 32, a former altar boy who served in the Navy and dreamed of being a cop. He liked to post videos of himself and his kids on social media. And on Thursday night, while Patrick went to work, his partner Kristy posted a photo of her and their daughter at a Texas Rangers game, and tagged her partner so that he could see it while on duty.

Brent Thompson answered that call. He served his country as a Marine. And years later, as a contractor, he spent time in some of the most dangerous parts of Iraq and Afghanistan. And then a few years ago, he settled down here in Dallas for a new life of service as a transit cop. And just about two weeks ago, he married a fellow officer, their whole life together waiting before them.

Like police officers across the country, these men and their families shared a commitment to something larger than themselves. They weren’t looking for their names to be up in lights. They’d tell you the pay was decent but wouldn’t make you rich. They could have told you about the stress and long shifts, and they’d probably agree with Chief Brown when he said that cops don’t expect to hear the words “thank you” very often, especially from those who need them the most.

No, the reward comes in knowing that our entire way of life in America depends on the rule of law; that the maintenance of that law is a hard and daily labor; that in this country, we don’t have soldiers in the streets or militias setting the rules. Instead, we have public servants — police officers — like the men who were taken away from us.

And that’s what these five were doing last Thursday when they were assigned to protect and keep orderly a peaceful protest in response to the killing of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile of Minnesota. They were upholding the constitutional rights of this country.

For a while, the protest went on without incident. And despite the fact that police conduct was the subject of the protest, despite the fact that there must have been signs or slogans or chants with which they profoundly disagreed, these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals that they were. In fact, the police had been part of the protest’s planning. Dallas PD even posted photos on their Twitter feeds of their own officers standing among the protesters. Two officers, black and white, smiled next to a man with a sign that read, “No Justice, No Peace.”

And then, around nine o’clock, the gunfire came. Another community torn apart. More hearts broken. More questions about what caused, and what might prevent, another such tragedy.

I know that Americans are struggling right now with what we’ve witnessed over the past week. First, the shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and the protests, then the targeting of police by the shooter here — an act not just of demented violence but of racial hatred. All of it has left us wounded, and angry, and hurt. It’s as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened. And although we know that such divisions are not new — though they have surely been worse in even the recent past — that offers us little comfort.

Faced with this violence, we wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged. We wonder if an African-American community that feels unfairly targeted by police, and police departments that feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs, can ever understand each other’s experience. We turn on the TV or surf the Internet, and we can watch positions harden and lines drawn, and people retreat to their respective corners, and politicians calculate how to grab attention or avoid the fallout. We see all this, and it’s hard not to think sometimes that the center won’t hold and that things might get worse.

I understand. I understand how Americans are feeling. But, Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds. (Applause.) I know we’ll make it because of what I’ve experienced in my own life, what I’ve seen of this country and its people — their goodness and decency –as President of the United States. And I know it because of what we’ve seen here in Dallas — how all of you, out of great suffering, have shown us the meaning of perseverance and character, and hope.

When the bullets started flying, the men and women of the Dallas police, they did not flinch and they did not react recklessly. They showed incredible restraint. Helped in some cases by protesters, they evacuated the injured, isolated the shooter, and saved more lives than we will ever know. (Applause.) We mourn fewer people today because of your brave actions. (Applause.) “Everyone was helping each other,” one witness said. “It wasn’t about black or white. Everyone was picking each other up and moving them away.” See, that’s the America I know.

The police helped Shetamia Taylor as she was shot trying to shield her four sons. She said she wanted her boys to join her to protest the incidents of black men being killed. She also said to the Dallas PD, “Thank you for being heroes.” And today, her 12-year old son wants to be a cop when he grows up. That’s the America I know. (Applause.)

In the aftermath of the shooting, we’ve seen Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown, a white man and a black man with different backgrounds, working not just to restore order and support a shaken city, a shaken department, but working together to unify a city with strength and grace and wisdom. (Applause.) And in the process, we’ve been reminded that the Dallas Police Department has been at the forefront of improving relations between police and the community. (Applause.) The murder rate here has fallen. Complaints of excessive force have been cut by 64 percent. The Dallas Police Department has been doing it the right way. (Applause.) And so, Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown, on behalf of the American people, thank you for your steady leadership, thank you for your powerful example. We could not be prouder of you. (Applause.)

These men, this department — this is the America I know. And today, in this audience, I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible — (applause) — I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America that I know.

Now, I’m not naïve. I have spoken at too many memorials during the course of this presidency. I’ve hugged too many families who have lost a loved one to senseless violence. And I’ve seen how a spirit of unity, born of tragedy, can gradually dissipate, overtaken by the return to business as usual, by inertia and old habits and expediency. I see how easily we slip back into our old notions, because they’re comfortable, we’re used to them. I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been. And so I’m reminded of a passage in *John’s Gospel [First John]: Let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth. If we’re to sustain the unity we need to get through these difficult times, if we are to honor these five outstanding officers who we’ve lost, then we will need to act on the truths that we know. And that’s not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. But we’re going to have to be honest with each other and ourselves.

We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. (Applause.) And when anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting harm to police, even if they don’t act on it themselves — well, they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote. (Applause.)

We also know that centuries of racial discrimination — of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the end of lawful segregation. They didn’t just stop when Dr. King made a speech, or the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act were signed. Race relations have improved dramatically in my lifetime. Those who deny it are dishonoring the struggles that helped us achieve that progress. (Applause.)

But we know — but, America, we know that bias remains. We know it. Whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or of Middle Eastern descent, we have all seen this bigotry in our own lives at some point. We’ve heard it at times in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads and felt it in our own hearts. We know that. And while some suffer far more under racism’s burden, some feel to a far greater extent discrimination’s sting. Although most of us do our best to guard against it and teach our children better, none of us is entirely innocent. No institution is entirely immune. And that includes our police departments. We know this.

And so when African Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment; when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently, so that if you’re black you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested, more likely to get longer sentences, more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime; when mothers and fathers raise their kids right and have “the talk” about how to respond if stopped by a police officer — “yes, sir,” “no, sir” — but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door, still fear that kids being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy — when all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid. (Applause.) We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and coworkers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts. Surely we can see that, all of us.

We also know what Chief Brown has said is true: That so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. (Applause.) As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. (Applause.) We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. (Applause.) We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book — (applause) — and then we tell the police “you’re a social worker, you’re the parent, you’re the teacher, you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs, and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience. Don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when, periodically, the tensions boil over.

We know these things to be true. They’ve been true for a long time. We know it. Police, you know it. Protestors, you know it. You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are, and you pretend as if there’s no context. These things we know to be true. And if we cannot even talk about these things — if we cannot talk honestly and openly not just in the comfort of our own circles, but with those who look different than us or bring a different perspective, then we will never break this dangerous cycle.

In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work; it’s about forging consensus, and fighting cynicism, and finding the will to make change.

Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? And it doesn’t make anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it just makes us human. I don’t know. I confess that sometimes I, too, experience doubt. I’ve been to too many of these things. I’ve seen too many families go through this. But then I am reminded of what the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will give you a new heart, the Lord says, and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we must sustain.

Because with an open heart, we can learn to stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes, so that maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie who’s kind of goofing off but not dangerous — (applause) — and the teenager — maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words and values and authority of his parents. (Applause.)

With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just to opponents, but to enemies.

With an open heart, those protesting for change will guard against reckless language going forward, look at the model set by the five officers we mourn today, acknowledge the progress brought about by the sincere efforts of police departments like this one in Dallas, and embark on the hard but necessary work of negotiation, the pursuit of reconciliation.

With an open heart, police departments will acknowledge that, just like the rest of us, they are not perfect; that insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals. (Applause.) And I understand these protests — I see them, they can be messy. Sometimes they can be hijacked by an irresponsible few. Police can get hurt. Protestors can get hurt. They can be frustrating.

But even those who dislike the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” surely we should be able to hear the pain of Alton Sterling’s family. (Applause.) We should — when we hear a friend describe him by saying that “Whatever he cooked, he cooked enough for everybody,” that should sound familiar to us, that maybe he wasn’t so different than us, so that we can, yes, insist that his life matters. Just as we should hear the students and coworkers describe their affection for Philando Castile as a gentle soul — “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks,” they called him — and know that his life mattered to a whole lot of people of all races, of all ages, and that we have to do what we can, without putting officers’ lives at risk, but do better to prevent another life like his from being lost.

With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right. (Applause.) Because the vicious killer of these police officers, they won’t be the last person who tries to make us turn on one other. The killer in Orlando wasn’t, nor was the killer in Charleston. We know there is evil in this world. That’s why we need police departments. (Applause.) But as Americans, we can decide that people like this killer will ultimately fail. They will not drive us apart. We can decide to come together and make our country reflect the good inside us, the hopes and simple dreams we share.

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

For all of us, life presents challenges and suffering — accidents, illnesses, the loss of loved ones. There are times when we are overwhelmed by sudden calamity, natural or manmade. All of us, we make mistakes. And at times we are lost. And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things — not even a President does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.

America does not ask us to be perfect. Precisely because of our individual imperfections, our founders gave us institutions to guard against tyranny and ensure no one is above the law; a democracy that gives us the space to work through our differences and debate them peacefully, to make things better, even if it doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like. America gives us the capacity to change.

But as the men we mourn today — these five heroes — knew better than most, we cannot take the blessings of this nation for granted. Only by working together can we preserve those institutions of family and community, rights and responsibilities, law and self-government that is the hallmark of this nation. For, it turns out, we do not persevere alone. Our character is not found in isolation. Hope does not arise by putting our fellow man down; it is found by lifting others up. (Applause.)

And that’s what I take away from the lives of these outstanding men. The pain we feel may not soon pass, but my faith tells me that they did not die in vain. I believe our sorrow can make us a better country. I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace. Weeping may endure for a night, but I’m convinced joy comes in the morning. (Applause.) We cannot match the sacrifices made by Officers Zamarripa and Ahrens, Krol, Smith, and Thompson, but surely we can try to match their sense of service. We cannot match their courage, but we can strive to match their devotion.

May God bless their memory. May God bless this country that we love. (Applause.)

What Matters If We Have Hate In Our Hearts?

When I was running for the Capital School Board, one of the questions my two other candidates and I received at a debate was “Do black lives matter.”  It threw me off.  I prepared myself for a lot of questions beforehand.  That one threw me for a loop.  My two opponents, who happened to be African-American, almost seemed offended at the question.  One of them said “Of course black lives matter.  All lives matter.”

This is how I answered.  It isn’t verbatim, but this is the essence of what I said.  I agreed with my opponents that all lives matter.  But we need to understand where those words are coming from.  I explained how there has been an inequity and disproportionality in respect to how African-Americans have been treated in this country for centuries.  I said we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.  We have a school to prison pipeline in many places in America.  Too many African-Americans don’t have the same opportunities white people do.  I concluded with the statement that the Capital Board would be remiss not to understand where those words are coming from.  I meant every single word of it.

Afterwards, a gentleman in the audience clapped.  He happened to be African-American.  I thought it was a bizarre question for a school board debate, but it was important to him.  I later found out he asked that question in an attempt to trip me up.  Why?  Would the wrong answer have given him the impression I would have been a bad school board candidate?  Did the answers my opponents gave matter?  Given what happened yesterday, I can no longer support the idea of black lives matter if it brings more death.

We are at a crossroads today.  The situation got very serious in Dallas when snipers decided to shoot eleven police officers, four of which have died at this time.  The police officers were assigned to a protest where people were speaking out against the police shootings of two black men on Wednesday, one in Louisiana and one in Minnesota.  I can’t process death well.  Especially deaths that don’t have to happen.  I don’t know enough about law enforcement procedures to say if what they did was within their authority.  I can’t even figure out my own state, Delaware, and events that have happened here.  Some believe that our cops have the authority to do whatever they want based on court rulings and attorney general opinions.  Some say the cops were justified with their actions.

This is what I do know.  I am seeing a lot of crazy talk on Facebook.  I’m seeing people talking about how they have their guns ready when “they” come for them.  I’m seeing a lot of sadness too.  From all sides of diversity.  The hopeful side of me wants to believe this is a wake-up moment for all of us.  The fearful side says this is just the beginning.  I want to believe we can find peace out of all this.  I really do.  But that is going to take a monumental shift in thinking.  It takes both sides to listen.

I was in McDonalds a couple months ago.  I had just gotten off work and I was starving.  I just wanted a quick bite to eat and go home.  I work long days at my job and it is very physically demanding.  As I sat there, peacefully eating a cheeseburger, I see two African-American teenagers laughing at me.  I asked if everything was alright.  They said I had food around my mouth.  I thanked them for letting me know.  They kept standing there, laughing at me, talking about the food around my mouth.  Meanwhile, an adult, who I presumed was their mother or caregiver watched them do this.  She didn’t say a single word.  I asked them to stop.  They kept laughing.  Finally, and with a bit more assertiveness in my voice, I asked them to show some respect.  Only at this point did the adult intervene by saying “Come on boys,” and she gave me a nasty look.  The boys walked out with their mother.  This wasn’t the first time this kind of situation has happened to me, and something similar happened another time since.  I can say I have never treated a human being like that before.  It made me angry.  Not because they were black.  But the fact that they felt they could treat another human being like that and think it was okay.  That an adult, someone who should be teaching these young men the difference between kindness and cruelty, stood there and did nothing.  I could let situations like these harden my soul.  I could let it change my thoughts and apply the actions of a few to an entire group of people.  I could make false labels about black people based on this.  But I choose not to.  I understand, at the end of the day, that for some reason they don’t trust me.  They don’t know who I am and by taking the offensive they are actually being defensive to whatever happened to them to make them think that was okay.  Discrimination and racism goes both ways.  We may not be allowed to talk about that, but I am talking about it.  It’s real, and it happens.  We all know it.

This is my plea to African-Americans like the two teenagers and their mother in McDonalds that day: stop blaming white people.  Stop thinking it is okay to taunt us, to intimidate us, to bully us.  Stop thinking we aren’t worthy of the same respect you want for yourselves.  Stop telling us there is no way we could possibly understand unless we’ve lived it.  Stop saying that’s just how we are when one on one you talk to me just fine but when you are around your friends it is something completely different.  You are whatever you choose to be.  It isn’t the situation that makes you who you are.  It’s how you deal with the situation.  And to the adults who are too wrapped in years of hatred over their own circumstances, you need to turn those bad memories into something positive.  Don’t let what hardened your soul mold the life of your children.  Teach your children right from wrong.  Let them know that whatever happened to you was horrible, but they have the power to embrace the future and practice forgiveness.

This is my plea to white people with obvious race issues: Stop thinking it is okay to refer to black people as animals when something bad happens.  Stop looking down on them as if they are from another planet.  Stop with the twitchy fingers if you are a cop and don’t fully understand a situation.  Stop  using black people for your own political ambition or warped sense of greed.  Stop thinking every time a killing happens it will be the advent of martial law in our country and President Obama will finally take away all our rights.  I’m pretty sure if this was Obama’s plan, he wouldn’t wait until his eighth and final year to get that going or he is paving the way for Hillary to do it.  Stop putting up pray for Dallas pictures on Facebook unless you are prepared to put up a “Pray for…” every single time someone dies in this world.  I will pray for Dallas along with every other city and town in America until this stops.

This my plea to all Americans: stop the hating.  Stop the killing.  Stop the labeling and false accusations and the paranoia.  Take responsibility for your own life, for your own actions.  Don’t put the weight of history on your shoulders and think you have to live it.  Be someone new.  Every day is a new day.  Every day is an opportunity to be better than the one before.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  I’m not saying it isn’t hard work.  What I am saying is this: if you don’t have love, for your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates, your enemies, or anyone you encounter in life, but most of all yourself, you won’t ever be able to see the light in each and every heart.  Some shine bright while others are turned off.  But you can make a difference.  You can help others to turn their light on.  It may just be a smile, or a hello, or a helping hand, or saying “I care.  I understand.”  Teach your children.  Let them know that our differences are what makes us unique.  None of us are the same.  We all have one thing in common though.  We are all children of God.  In times like this, and in times of happiness, I pray.  I pray to God that we can do what He wants for us.  We can go through the Bible and pick apart this verse and that verse and apply it to every situation possible.  Many do.  But I believe the message is very simple.  Love each other.

It comes down to respect when you really think about it.  Respect for others.  For their circumstances, their situations.  Words have power.  But only as much power as we choose to give them.  But words really don’t mean anything if the tone behind it is hostile.  Which is ironic given the very nature of this blog and what I write about.  Something I have been guilty of on more occasions than I can think of.  I can sit here and say it is all out of love.  But I let my anger get the best of me.  We all do.  But I can change that, and so can you.  Before a hand-held device was smaller than our hands (they were bigger than a toddler’s head).  There were race issues, and most of them probably weren’t talked about the way they are today.  We glossed over them in the face of the Russian threat and the fear of nuclear war.  We honored Martin Luther King Jr. and made a national holiday.

Back in 1986, something called Hands Across America happened.  The goal was to create a line across America of people holding hands.  I don’t remember what is was for or if they accomplished the goal.  I would like to think it would have been impossible with the presence of rivers and high mountains and whatnot.  But the spirit was there.  We had issues back then, but not like today.  This was in the days before a gangster lifestyle was glorified in our culture.  Before the internet and social media took over our lives and gave us all transparency beyond what we could have dreamed of.  We need to somehow incorporate what we now know, what is talked about everyday with very real statistics, and stop talking about it and start acting.  We need to come together, lay down our walls of mistrust, hatred, fear, and suspicion, and work it out.  Our future, our children’s future, depends on it.

I’ve heard a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement over the past two years.  They are right.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Hispanic Lives Matter.  Oriental Lives Matter.  Criminal Lives Matter.  Baby’s Lives Matter.  Children’s Lives Matter.  Muslim Lives Matter.  Christian Lives Matter.  Gay Lives Matter.  Lesbian Lives Matter.  Disabled Lives Matter.  Jewish Lives Matter.  Native American Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Your life matters.  But do you want to know what doesn’t matter?  Hate doesn’t matter.  In the end, only love matters.

Some Are Pushing For The WEIC Redistricting For The WRONG Reasons

I’ve gone back and forth with the WEIC redistricting plan for a while now.  Some days I like it, others I don’t.  I tend to think of it from more of a statewide level because I live down in Dover.  But there are those who are in full support of the plan.  But some aren’t in it for the right reasons.  I recently heard a reference to “those kids”…those being the Wilmington Christina students.  While many of the main advocates want a better outcome for these students and think a population of city kids split up between four districts is bad, there are those who don’t want those kids in Christina anymore.  For the simple reason that they are a perceived burden and a problem that needs to go away.  I like to call this racism.  There are also some in Red Clay who don’t want more of “those kids”.  That is also racism when said in the same context.

I get the folks who are afraid of their taxes going up.  I understand that.  Especially older citizens on a fixed income.  But those who don’t want them because of their environment, or the color of their skin, or the issues they bring into schools… you need to get over it.  We live in the 21st Century.  The Jim Crow laws are gone.  Gay people can marry.  It’s a new way of looking at things.  I tend to believe, and this is only my opinion, most issues of racism are inherited.  Racism exists on both sides.  There are white people who hate black people and black people who hate white people.  I think it comes down to a matter of trust and dealing with fear.

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, I worked in a comic book store in Trenton, NJ for a little while.  I was driving home from work one night, and I took a wrong turn.  I wound up in a bad neighborhood.  I was approaching a stop sign when a group of African-American men started walking towards my car with baseball bats.  It terrified me.  I ignored the stop sign and gunned it until I was in a safer area.  I didn’t report it.  I just made sure I was never in that area again.  Did I let that one bad situation define my views of African-Americans?  No.  I recognized there are good and bad people everywhere.  Is there really much difference between those men who were defending their turf and a fight at a school?  Probably not.  Was their intention to harm me or just scare me?  I may never know.  Perhaps they viewed me as a threat.

Back to WEIC, I just feel like the Christina Wilmington children could possibly be a political football.  I’ve discussed this with many people over the past year and a half or so.  I just don’t see how transferring them from Christina to Red Clay is really going to make such a huge difference for them.  They will still be in a school district.  Maybe they won’t be bused as far, but I remember it taking my bus an hour on some days to get to school.  If it was snowing, forget about it!  As an adult, I would kill for an hour in a vehicle I don’t have to drive!  To be alone with my thoughts, possibly someone to talk to.  Read, listen to music, stare at the scenery, I wouldn’t mind it at all.

I get that things need to change.  Personally, I think making Wilmington its own district isn’t such a bad idea.  I think a lot of the other districts should combine.  We really don’t need nineteen school districts in Delaware.  If those in power pushed this, it would happen.  But they are stuck in their ways and the way it is.  Change is very hard for Delaware.  I’ve realized that a lot lately.  But this whole “it has to happen now” thing is beginning to irritate me.  A lot.  If it has to happen now, why are there so many demanding conditions on the whole thing and timetables set up that almost seem to be a detriment rather than a help?

When I hear about Red Clay’s nightmare of an inclusion plan, I worry about the Christina Wilmington special needs kids who may be headed into a district that, on the surface, claims they are a success.  When I hear from parents that the flaws and issues facing that inclusion plan haven’t been solved and that the administration keeps canceling the Red Clay Inclusion Committee meetings for no reason at all, I worry we are sending them to a district that just doesn’t get it.  But once you start digging a bit, you find out Red Clay really isn’t that different from Christina in a lot of respects.  But what they do have is power.  They have very affluent suburbs.  Red Clay and Colonial own the Data Service Center.  They have the ability to authorize their own charter schools.  While it hasn’t been done in a long time, the option is there.  Christina has this option as well, but no one has utilized it.  Christina doesn’t have a Charter School of Wilmington or a Conrad to brighten their reputation (and test scores).  One of them is the most discriminatory institutes of learning I have ever seen in my life while calling themselves a public school.  But no one acts on this.  I have to wonder why that is?  We talk all the time about how we need to make life better for kids.  But we allow discrimination factories in our state that the citizens of the state pay taxes to fund.  What does that say about who we are as Delaware?  We can say we hate it, but when the time comes to push on these issues, and I mean really push, it gets very quiet.

If WEIC truly wants to make things equitable for the children of Wilmington, they need to stop doing it under this illusion of instant change or it is gone forever.  I would love instant change as well, but that doesn’t mean it is always good.  The redistricting plan, if it becomes law, is going to pump tons of money into Red Clay.  But it won’t last forever.  What happens when that money is gone four, five years down the road?  All these programs will happen based on that money.  When it disappears, what happens then?  Is Red Clay going to ask their citizens to pay for it?  Do we truly think the state will keep paying?  And why aren’t Brandywine and Colonial participating in this?  That was the original plan.  Do they not want “those kids” as well?  I know Colonial want to keep the ones they already have, but why did they never offer to take more?

If you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, you better be damn sure you are doing it for the best of all possible reasons.  If you are sending kids into a transition just for the sake of getting rid of them, you might want to take a good look in the mirror and think how it would feel if you were being tossed around like that.  If you’re doing this to gain power, or an illusion power, remember this is not a game.  These are children.  If you truly believe their lives will be better, than go with that feeling.  If you want a legacy, make sure it is a legacy for kids and not your name.  Names are only as important as how things are perceived in the long run.  If this ends bad, your name will be attached to it.

I know there are legislators who have or will vote yes for this because it is the political thing to do.  I know some of them really haven’t researched it enough to know what they are actually voting on.  I have to say, I respect the hell out of State Rep. Kim Williams.  Out of all the House Democrats, she was the only one to vote no.  Not because she doesn’t want a better life for these kids.  Not because she thinks Red Clay isn’t as good as Christina.  She voted no because she is deeply concerned about the funding for all this and what it will eventually mean for the constituents in her district.  To vote against party lines like that, especially when you are the last Democrat on the roll call and you know every single other Democrat in that room already voted yes, that takes courage and strength.

I know some Senators will fight this.  Even a Democrat or two.  I recently heard something about a tooth and a nail.  I heard about another one who is opposed to it but the power players feel they can handle this Senator.  Excuse me?  Handle?  Is this the FBI?  I didn’t know Delaware Senators had handlers.  I spent a lot of time in Legislative Hall this week.  I saw and heard a lot.  More this week alone than I think I have the entire time I’ve gone there during the 148th General Assembly.  While I’m not naming names here, I think some of the Delaware “elite” may want to put themselves in check.  You only have as much power as you think you have.  It can be taken away in an instant.  For those who think they are above the will of the people and all that, think twice.  I’m not the only one who talks, and I don’t talk as much as I could.  The “elite” would most likely have something to really fear if others did.  I would worry more about the things people say about you that you can’t hear.  That puts a chink in your armor and you don’t even know it’s happening.

I fear this will all end badly for these kids.  I agree with what some of the legislators said the other day.  This is a hope bill.  A hope bill with a hell of a lot of money, but even more important, children’s lives on the line.  We still have the Smarter Balanced Assessment which will be the measurement of how successful this thing is.  Success based on a failure of a test.  I have to ask… what the hell are we really thinking this will accomplish if it based on the very flawed measurement that will define this?  The same test that is making a complete mockery out of special education in our state?  If this thing is so important, so “has to happen now”, I would encourage all those who have children or grandchildren that could attend Red Clay district schools send their children there.  Choice them into Warner, or Bancroft, or Stubbs.  Only then will the words I hear so many of you saying actually mean you truly believe this.

The 21st Century Racism That Pits Parents Against Teachers While Companies Profit

Yesterday, a presentation was given to the Delaware Senate Education Committee by the Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) on the highly controversial Component V portion of the teacher evaluation system in Delaware. Component V is the part of Delaware’s teacher evaluation system tied to standardized tests.  The group also felt that the recently concluded DPAS-II Sub-Committee on teacher evaluations was found lacking with a diversity among its members.

PACE is an initiative of the Christina Cultural Arts Center, which advocates and promotes the arts in education. Centered out of Wilmington, PACE is comprised of concerned citizens who feel that parent education organizations are underrepresented by minorities.  The Christina Cultural Arts Center is run by Raye Jones Avery, who also sits on the board of the Rodel Foundation.

PACE began a few years ago but gained more momentum last fall when Elizabeth Lockman began running the organization. As a result of Lockman’s connections and influence in the Wilmington community, the group was able to define themselves and began conducting workshops to gain perspective on education in Delaware.

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The workshops offered different topics in education. Some examples of their workshops included presentations  from or topics on the following: Parent Information Center of Delaware (PIC), members of the Delaware Department of Education Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, Early Education advocates, the Metropolitan Urban League, School Board governance, Community Schools, Title I Schools, Education Funding, College Readiness, “Opportunity Gaps”, the School To Prison  Pipeline, the State Legislature, the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC), the Wilmington Education Strategy Think Tank (WESTT), TeenSHARP (run by former DOE employee Atnre Alleyne), Discipline and School Climate, ACLU/Coalition for Fair and Equitable Schools, and a presentation by Alleyne shortly before he resigned from the Delaware Department of Education.  This last presentation is very important in the context of this article, but I will touch on that later.

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Upcoming presentations include State Rep. Stephanie Bolden explaining how Education Policies become law, the education landscape in Wilmington, School Choice & Climate, Quality: Teacher Inequity & Ed Quality, Readiness: Getting from Early Ed to College & Career, Accountability: Inside Title I & Assessment, and Support: Empowered Parents = Ready Children. In addition, PACE partnered with the Delaware Charter Schools Network on the Public School Choice Expo and hosted the Michael Lomax presentation in January.

The DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee is an offshoot of the DPAS-II Advisory Group. Created through House Joint Resolution #6 last year, sponsored by Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques and Senator David Sokola, the legislation stated the following about the goals of the committee:

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The group met for the first time on September 15, 2015. Based on the first meeting minutes, the membership of the group consisted of the following:

DPAS-II Sub-Committee Members

  • Jackie Kook, (Delaware State Education Association, Christina School District) – Chair
  • Dr. David Santore, (Delaware Association of School Administrators, Caesar Rodney) – Co-Chair
  • Sherry Antonetti, (DSEA, Caesar Rodney)
  • Clay Beauchamp, (DSEA, Lake Forest)
  • Rhiannon O’Neal, (DSEA, Woodbridge)
  • Kent Chase, (DASA, Woodbridge)
  • Dr. Clifton Hayes, (DASA, New Castle County Vo-Tech)
  • Dr. Charlynne Hopkins, (DASA, Indian River)
  • Bill Doolittle, (Parent Representative, Delaware PTA)
  • David Tull, DE (Delaware School Boards Association, Seaford Board of Education)
  • Dr. Lisa Ueltzhoffer, (Charter School Representative, Newark Charter School)
  • Dr. Susan Bunting, School Chief’s Association/(DPAS-II Advisory Committee Chairperson, also Superintendent of Indian River)
  • Donna R Johnson, (Executive Director of Delaware State Board of Education, non-voting member)
  • Delaware State Senator David Sokola
  • Tyler Wells, Higher Education representative
  • The following Delaware DOE members served as staff for the committee:
  • Christopher Ruszkowski, (Delaware DOE, Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit, non-voting member)
  • Atnre Alleyne, (Delaware DOE, TLEU, non-voting member)
  • Shannon Holston (Delaware DOE, School Leadership Strategy, non-voting member)
  • Renee Holt (Delaware DOE, TLEU, secretary for committee)

As well, Senator Sokola’s Aide, Tanner Polce, sometimes sat in for Senator Sokola.

Various members of the DOE attended meetings, usually from the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit.

The biggest recommendation to come out of the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee was reducing the weight of Component V. This part of the DPAS-II Teacher Evaluation system is tied to the state assessment. In lieu of using the state assessment as a measure of growth, the assessment could be one of several other measures. As well, the weight with component V, both parts, would be equal to the other four components. Each one would carry a weight of 20%.

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When this recommendation came out in its full context at the Sub-Committee meeting in January, Delaware Secretary Dr. Steven Godowsky was most likely planning for another big event coming the next day, on January 14th. Neither Donna Johnson nor Chris Ruszkowski from the DOE attended the meeting on January 13th. The very next day, the Delaware House of Representatives knew State Rep. John Kowalko would attempt to get an override of Delaware Governor Markell’s veto of the opt out legislation, House Bill 50. To do this, he would need to have a majority of the House vote to suspend the rules to have it get a full House vote. While that didn’t happen, I am sure Secretary Godowsky was in constant contact with Governor Markell and his Education Policy Advisor, Lindsay O’Mara. Since Alleyne attended the Sub-Committee meeting on January 13th, it would stand to reason Godowsky was notified the group was leaning towards the Component V recommendation. On the evening of January 14th, the PACE sponsored Michael Lomax presentation occurred.

At some point in February, Atnre Alleyne announced his resignation at the Delaware DOE. His last day was on February 29th. On February 13th, an announcement went up on PACE’s Facebook page announcing their next set of workshops.

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At the 2/16 meeting of the Sub-Committee, Secretary Godowsky showed up and listened to the group’s recommendations.

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Alleyne attended this meeting as well. He was very concerned about the wording on part of the draft for the final report of the committee

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Two days later, on February 18th, Alleyne was the speaker at the PACE Workshop on Teacher Quality and Assessment. Without knowing what was said at this workshop, I am speculating that a discussion ensued about the DPAS-II Advisory Sub-Committee and their findings. Keep in mind he was still an employee of the Delaware Department of Education at this point.

By the time the next meeting came on February 29th, it was Alleyne’s last day at the DOE. Several people gave public comment, including two members of PACE: Althea Smith-Tucker and Mary Pickering.

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Alleyne served his last day at the Delaware DOE after this meeting. On March 7th, the day before the next meeting of the Sub-Committee, Alleyne put a post up on his blog, “The Urgency of Now”, entitled “Do #blackvoicesmatter in Delaware schools?” The blog article touched on many points which do show an underrepresentation of African-American students in the teaching profession in Delaware. Citing some other examples that I somewhat agree with, Alleyne brought up the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. In writing about both the DPAS-II Advisory Committee AND the DPAS-II Sub-Committee, he touched on the fact the Advisory Committee had no members of color aside from himself and he was a non-voting member (as an employee of the DOE). But what he did in the next paragraph failed to distinguish between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee:

At the committee’s most recent meeting, a few black parents from Wilmington sat through the meeting and provided comments during the public comment section.

But what happened next made it look even worse for the committee:

After the meeting, they followed up on their critique of the committee’s lack of parent representation (it has one parent representative from the PTA) with the PTA representative. He noted that he agreed we need more parents on these committees. One of the parents pressed further and said, “Well I’ve seen you as the one representative of parents on a number of state committees. You should share the wealth.” His response: (paraphrasing) I’d love to not be the only one on these committees if other parents could learn enough about these issues and systems to be able to participate.

Apparently the two parents from PACE did not like this response. As well, Alleyne, who was STILL a DOE employee at this point (granted, it was his last day), jumped to their defense:

I joined the parents in letting him know that we found that notion offensive. He chided me for not understanding the research and advocating for ineffective and uninformed parent engagement. I retorted that perhaps the problem is we have policy wonks and interest groups advocating for adults at the table. Meanwhile, nobody is asking the simple questions and speaking from the heart about what is best for students.

I reminded him that ours is a democracy that lets everyone participate even if they are seemingly less informed. I also reminded him that the hoops and prerequisites he was promulgating as a barrier to participation seemed painfully similar to hoops black people had to jump through to prove they were smart enough to vote. One of the parents informed him (sarcastically) that she had a doctorate in education and that she was pretty sure she could figure out Delaware’s educator evaluation system–but it shouldn’t take having a doctorate degree to be worthy of sitting at the table.  

I found this assault on the parent representative from the Delaware PTA, Bill Doolittle, to be absolutely unfounded. In my years of blogging, I have met many people involved in education. As a parent advocate with the Delaware PTA and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, as well as his own personal advocacy, there are not too many “non-educators” who have the resolve, knowledge, and depth of compassion for students that Bill Doolittle has. To turn his comments into an issue of race is very offensive to me. As well, by referring to “we” in his response to Doolittle, he removed himself from the reason he was there, as a non-voting member of the DPAS Sub-Committee, and became Atnre Alleyne.

But since Alleyne never made the distinction between the Advisory Committee and the Sub-Committee in the rest of the article, one would assume there was no person of color on either committee. What Alleyne left out was the fact two of the administrators on the Sub-Committee were African-American.

Now keep in mind, Alleyne had not written an article on his blog in eleven months. But by the time he wrote this, he was no longer an employee of the DOE and most likely felt he could express his thoughts as a private individual. This is certainly his right. But to leave an impression about a lack of diversity on an important education group when he very well knew there was diversity on this committee is disingenuous. I wouldn’t bring this up, but it does play a huge role in what happened after.

At the final meeting of the DPAS Sub-Committee on March 8th, the final recommendations of the committee came out, and Ruszkowski and Alleyne were not happy about them at all.

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As well, members of PACE, Alleyne (now speaking on behalf of TeenSHARP), and a Delaware student gave public comment:

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Now the name “Halim Hamorum” sounded very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. I Googled the name and couldn’t find anything. I tried the last name, nothing. Then I tried the first name and Delaware, and several hits came up. Halim Hamroun, a student at Newark High School, was one of the speakers at the launch of the Vision Coalition’s Student Success 2025 last September. But I also remembered he wrote a column the same day in the News Journal about the student voice.

I am also a veteran of at least three state test programs meant to improve our educational system, and a guinea pig for various scheduling and teaching methods. Each year there’s a new flavor.

As I sit here writing this, I find myself wondering how a Newark High School student would find out about the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting, know exactly what it was about, and be able to attend and give public comment. This is conjecture on my part, but someone reached out to him. He was coached. They knew about his connection with the Rodel Foundation/Vision Coalition sponsored “Student Success 2025” and asked him to speak against the committee’s recommendations. In Delaware education, there is no such thing as a coincidence.

But what shocked me the most about the final meeting was the abhorrent behavior of the soon to be former DOE employee Chris Ruszkowski. His comments, especially suggesting that the committee was conducting secret meetings and “hoodwinked” the process and goals of the legislation is absolutely preposterous, especially coming from one of the most controversial employees of the Delaware Department of Education during Governor Markell’s tenure as Governor of Delaware. We all know transparency is an issue in Delaware, but I have seen many meeting minutes for all sorts of groups in Delaware. The minutes and transparency surrounding the DPAS-II Sub-Committee are some of the best I have seen in Delaware. I frequently look at the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar, and I always saw their meeting notices, agendas, and minutes faithfully listed.

What Ruszkowski may not be aware of is the large amount of DOE emails that were part of a FOIA request by another Delaware citizen that have his name on many of them. I’ve published some, and others I haven’t due to the nature of the emails. I have seen his disdain for many traditional school districts. I’ve heard the tales of his tirades against school districts who opposed his initiatives, such as the Delaware Talent Cooperative. I personally haven’t had any face to face discussion with Ruszkowski, but the one time I did, it was a childish response to a comment I made during the last assessment inventory meeting. I would not be surprised in the least, and this is merely conjecture on my part, if Ruszkowski’s resignation from the DOE was somehow connected with his behavior at the final DPAS-II Sub-Committee meeting.

To read the entire minutes from this final meeting (and I strongly suggest you do), please read the below document. But there is much more that happened after this meeting!

Two days after the final Sub-Committee meeting, Alleyne posted another article on his blog about the meeting. This article, aptly named “Reflections after last nights educator evaluation commitee meeting”, went over his perception of the events.

The committee is also recommending that the use of students’ growth on the state Math/English assessment will no longer be required as one of two measures in a Math and English teacher’s Student Improvement component. This is currently the only statewide, uniform, and objective measure of educator effectiveness in the evaluation system.

Keep in mind this is coming from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes the same kind of education talk we have heard from Governor Markell, the Delaware DOE, the Delaware State Board of Education, the Rodel Foundation, and so many of the companies, non-profits, foundations, and think tanks that make up the corporate education reform behemoth.

What this led to next took many by surprise. PACE, somehow, was able to get a presentation before the Senate Education Committee yesterday. The man who sets the agenda for the Senate Education Committee is Senator David Sokola, the Chair. The same Senator who served on the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator who wrote the legislation creating the DPAS-II Sub-Committee. The same Senator whose legislation stated the committee would present their findings to both the Senate and House Education Committees in the Delaware General Assembly. So how is it that a parent advocacy group from Wilmington presents their complaints about a committee that they didn’t really take action with until their last two meetings, well after the recommendations were put forth, is able to give a presentation to members of the Senate Education Committee, before the DPAS-II Sub-Committee even presented their final report to either Education Committee? And from what I’m hearing, the committee hasn’t even had a presentation date scheduled!

I attended the Senate Education Committee meeting yesterday, and I heard what Mary Pickering, who spoke on behalf of PACE, had to say. As well, a handout was given to members of the education committee and I was graciously given a copy. This document was written on March 31st, but nothing shows up anywhere online about it. PACE does not have a website, just a Facebook and Twitter page. I copied the entire document, but to prove its authenticity, I did take a picture of part of the first page:

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March 31, 2016

 

To The Members of the Delaware Legislature:

The Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE) is an organization whose mission is to raise awareness among parents and people who care about the need to improve public education across the state of Delaware, and in particular, for students living in the city of Wilmington.

Earlier this year PACE became aware of the DPAS-II subcommittee (created through HJR 6) and their efforts to recommend changes to Delaware’s teacher evaluation system. We began attending these meetings, sharing our perspectives as parents during the public comment porting of the meetings, and asking questions.  How teachers should be evaluated in Delaware was the focus of this committee, a very important topic that will impact all Delaware teachers, parents, and students.  Yet this 14-member committee has only one parent representative, very little diversity, and each of the meetings we attended had little participation from the general public.  The perspectives many parents shared during the public comment portion of the meeting, as well as those we’ve heard from other parents in our community, are not reflected in the Sub-Committee’s final recommendations.  As such, we are sharing this letter in the hopes that you will consider a diverse set of perspectives on this issue. 

As you discuss the future of teacher evaluation in Delaware’s public school system, we would like you to consider the following:

The importance of parent and student voice in teachers’ evaluations: Parents and students had very little voice in the DPAS-II Sub-committee process and have no voice in teachers’ overall evaluation process. Although this was mentioned in the Sub-Committee numerous times, our request was excluded from their recommendations.  Parents and students can offer unique perspectives on their experience with various teachers that will complete the picture of a teacher’s overall performance.  Parents are routinely subjected to surveys, none of which ask about our children’s experiences in the classroom.  Although all teachers receive ratings through the DPAS-II system, this information is not made available to parents to make informed decision and protect against inequities in schools.  We ask that you emphasize the importance of parent and student voice by adding a requirement that parent and/or student surveys be included in our Delaware teacher evaluation system.  We also ask that legislature make information about teachers’ evaluations more transparent to parents.

The importance of diverse perspectives in decisions about teacher evaluation: The DPAS-II Sub-committee had four representatives from the teacher’s union, four from the administrator’s association, and only one parent to represent the entire state of Delaware parent population. There were no teachers of color on the committee.  Although this committee is a poor representation of the diverse population you serve across the state, their recommendations will be presented as if there is a consensus.  We ask that you show your commitment to diversity by engaging a wider and more diverse set of stakeholders before taking any action on the sub-committee’s recommendations.  We also ask that legislation be amended to allow a more diverse set of stakeholders to serve on the DPAS-II Advisory Committee.

The importance of student learning and accountability for student learning: During the meetings we attended, we were appalled at how student learning took a back seat to the convenience of adults in the system. The committee is recommending reducing the weight of the Student Improvement component and making all 5 components equally weighted.  This would allow a teacher rated unsatisfactory on the Student Improvement Component to still be rated as an effective teacher.  The Sub-committee is basically saying that Planning and Preparation (Component 1) and Professional Responsibilities (Component 4) are as important as Instruction (Component 3) and Student Improvement (Component 5).  It is not clear to us how an education system designed to produce academically and socially successful students, implement an evaluation system that de-emphasizes accountability for student learning.  It is our concern that the recommendations of the subcommittee, if adopted, will widen the achievement gap for the children in places like Wilmington, DE.  We believe there should be an evaluation system that supports teachers, but also meaningful and consistent accountability.  We ask that you show your commitment to student learning and leave the weight of the Student Improvement Component as is. 

The importance of including the state assessment as a part of teachers’ evaluations: The committee is recommending that Math and English teachers no longer be required to use student growth from the state assessment as one part of their evaluation.  State test scores are the only objective measure of student improvements that are consistent across the state for educator effectiveness.  As flawed as the test may be (something we believe also needs to be addressed), it is still the only consistent measure of student growth.  The measures that the committee is recommending to replace state assessments are substantially less rigorous and comparable across the state.  Removing this measure will only serve to remove accountability, widen the disparity among schools, and eliminate the ability to monitor the impact of inequitable funding in disproportionately children of color.  We ask that you show your commitment to creating an objective and consistent evaluation system by leaving the state assessment as a required measure of Student Improvement for Delaware Math and English teachers.

We believe that an evaluation system where 99% of teachers are told they are effective or highly-effective does a disservice to educator professional growth.   It is also inconsistent with the experiences we have (and our children have) in schools each day.  We believe our recommendations will help Delaware create an evaluation system that values student learning, gives teachers accurate information they can use to improve, holds teachers accountable fairly, and values student perspectives.  We would appreciate the opportunity to further discuss our recommendations as the legislature discusses this important matter.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Mary Pickering

Advocacy Coordinator

Parent Advocacy Council for Education (PACE)

What I would like you, the reader, to do at this point is compare the handout from PACE with Alleyne’s blog article from March 10th.

This is what bothers me about this whole situation.  I like the idea of PACE. I think the idea of community members getting together, no matter who may provide the funding, in an effort to improve education is honorable.  I love the fact that they are very organized and set up workshops on a multitude of education subjects.  I agree with many of PACE’s goals.

I firmly believe minority students are not always given the same level playing field as their non-minority peers. The African-Americans in America are still marginalized in many areas of society.  But they have also come a long way depending on the path they took.  We have a black President.  We have very successful African-American business executives, both male and female.  In pop culture, the African-American culture thrives in music.  While there are still some hurdles to overcome, Hollywood is very welcoming to African-Americans.

But what hasn’t changed is the plight of inner-city youth. We still have far too many minorities who deal with poverty, violence, crime, drugs, and a gang culture that draws far too many of them away from the potential for success and into prison.  Many of these children have single parents, or no parents at all.  Many of these children are traumatized through the events in their lives.  Some of them, and by growing numbers, also have disabilities.

Somewhere along the way, corporate businessmen decided they could make a profit off this. As a result, we saw the growth of charter schools and school choice.  We saw testing companies spring up overnight.  With funds sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the Koch Brothers, the Walton Foundation, and so many more, education “reform” companies came out of the woodwork.  All of a sudden schools and states were contracting with these companies.  Report after report came out with the following statements: Our schools are failing.  Our teachers were not effective.  The unions were calling the shots.  Teach For America and similar teacher prep programs had better results than regular teachers.  Charter schools are better than traditional schools.  And every single report, every finding, came from one single thing: the standardized test score.

There are many names for these standardized tests: High-Stakes testing, state assessments, Smarter Balanced, PARCC, and the list goes on. But they all wind up with the same results, plus or minus a few abnormalities: they are socio-economic indicators that do not determine a student’s abilities but their zip code.  And many in the African-American community believe it is a valid measure.  In some ways, I can’t blame them.  They have a valid history of marginalization.  There have been equity gaps that still exist to this very day.  In Delaware, we have some schools that do not accept a large population of African-Americans or other minorities, even though the demographics surrounding these schools strongly suggest something is amiss.  These schools argue back and forth that they don’t get the applications from these communities, or the placement test scares them off.  But these are public schools, barred from any type of discrimination whatsoever.  If they have things in place that are preventing any group of students from attending, that is against the law.  But this is Delaware, and we seem to think it is okay as a state to let those things slide.

Which brings me back to PACE. A group, which started with honorable intentions, has been sucked into the madness of standardized testing.  In their handout to the Senate, they openly admit the current assessment in Delaware, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, is flawed.  Knowing that, they still want our teachers evaluated by it.  They feel that the potential price teachers could pay based on those evaluations is less important than the mirage standardized test scores give.  If anything, standardized test scores have widened the equity and proficiency gaps more than anything else since black and white schools.  And this is happening right now, in the 21st Century.

But here is the kicker to all of this. There is one group in education that performs far worse than any minority group.  They are always at the bottom of these lists.  And that is students with disabilities.  I am a parent of a child with a disability.  So no one can say I don’t have a voice or a stake in what is going on with standardized tests.  But we don’t see parents of students with disabilities advocating for these kinds of measurements for our children.  Many of us see them as an impediment to progress as opposed to a road to progress.

I was the first member of any type of media in Delaware to announce the DOE’s Annual Measurable Objective goals for all of the sub-groups in Delaware Education for 2015-2021. I was at the State Board of Education meeting in November.  I saw the document just placed on the State Board of Education website that documented what the Delaware DOE’s growth goals were for all of the sub-groups, all based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I saw immediately what the DOE’s growth goals meant for any high-need student: students with disabilities, English Language learners, African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income students.

Take a very good look at the below two pictures. Note the growth that is expected out of these different sub-groups on one single measure: the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Look at the gains they will have to make compared to the groups with the least amount of growth expected: Asians and Whites.  Think about the vast amount of work expected out of educators to get to those levels.  Think about the struggles and “rigor” those students will need to get to those levels, if they make it at all (which I highly doubt).  Think about the state assessment, how it is designed, the anxiety in schools based on them.  Think about the vast amount of instruction time that is taken away for these tests.  Time your child will NEVER get back.  Think about the fact that most of us are in agreement that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is a very flawed test.  Think about the fact that the Delaware DOE openly admitted these are the highest goals of any other state in the country.

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Think about this: During this meeting, when I saw these goals, I assumed a DOE Employee was behind this. Her name is Penny Schwinn, and she no longer works for the DOE.  She left in January.  Her title was the Chief of Accountability and Assessment.  When I saw these pictures, I put her name in the title of this article.  After I posted it, I saw her in the hallway.  She had been crying and was very upset.  After the meeting, I approached her.  She explained to me that she didn’t set these goals.  She also explained that they are impossible goals to reach for these students.  I said to her “I know who set these goals.”  She looked at me and said “Chris?” to which I responded, “No, Governor Markell.”  I changed the name on the article since she openly admitted to myself and another person she did not make these goals.  I knew Penny Schwinn ultimately answered to the Governor, so I assumed he made the goals.  Or at the very least, approved them.

Upon retrospection of this conversation and all I have learned since, Governor Markell is a corporate guy. He is a persuasive public speaker and he knows how to sell a product.  But he doesn’t know how to build a product.  This growth model, in all likelihood, came from Chris Ruszkowski at the Delaware DOE.  The very same individual who, along with his second-in-command, Atnre Alleyne, used flawed data in every possible way to perpetuate the myth that school district teachers in districts with high poverty are failing our students.  In particular, students of color.  This is the pinnacle of the corporate education reform movement’s essence for being.  This is the heart of everything that comes out.  They use groups like PACE to further their own agendas.  Both Ruszkowski and Alleyne came to the Delaware DOE with well-established resumes in the corporate education reform movement.  I have no doubt they speak very well to a group like PACE.  They live and breathe the data they read, study, and create every single day.  They were paid by the Delaware DOE, with more money than most of us will ever see in an annual salary, to prove that public school education teachers are failing students of color.  Their data is, in large part, based on standardized tests.

So when I hear groups like PACE advocating for Component V in the DPAS-II teacher evaluation system, I know for a fact these aren’t conclusions they came up with by themselves. The timing of events suggests otherwise.  If you ask people in Delaware what they know about Component V, they would give you a puzzled look and think you were strange.  Unless you are an educator, a legislator, or deeply involved in education matters, it isn’t something that comes across the radar of everyday citizens.  But a group that has had multiple visits by Alleyne and Ruszkowski, who knew the exact right words to say to pull their chain, they would.  PACE came to two of the DPAS-II Sub-Committee meetings with very advanced knowledge of the DPAS-II process within a week of a presentation to their committee by the Delaware DOE employee who opposed the recommendations of the committee.  They were fed the same line of malarkey all of us have been fed.  But groups like PACE are organized and they want to see different lives for the children in their community.  I do not fault them at all for that.  But because they so desperately want these changes in education, they can easily fall prey to the very bad data and myths surrounding standardized tests and educators.

I have no doubt there are issues of racism in our schools. We do need more African-American teachers in our schools.  But to judge the teachers we do have in our schools with the highest needs, based on a test we know is horrible, what message does that send?  Let me put this another way: many parents who tend to advocate for their children the most believe there is an actual barrier to their educational success, whether it is the color of their skin or a disability.  It is very easy to blame a teacher when our children don’t succeed.  And I am sure, in some cases (but not as many as some think), there could be a valid argument there.  But to judge any teacher based on a flawed test that defines a child based on their zip code, color of their skin, disability, or income status is just plain wrong.  These tests are discriminatory in nature.  They are judgmental of our children, their teachers, and their schools.  They are, to put them in one word, racist.

Let that word hang there for a few minutes. Racist.  Standardized tests are racist.  Racism doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing it did twenty years ago.  Racism has evolved.  If standardized tests are racist, and we have people of all diverse cultures promoting them, what does that even mean?

It is the 21st Century version of racism: the sub-groups.  The African-American students.  The Hispanic students.  English Language learners.  Students with disabilities.  Low-Income Students.  Students from inner-cities who are homeless or come from severe poverty.  The children of the drug addicts who are born into trauma.  The children whose father is in prison.  This is the modern form of racism.  We hear it all the time.  We only have to look at some of the very racist comments when any article about race comes up on the Facebook account of Delawareonline.

None of these education groups out of the DOE or the foundations, think tanks and non-profits have the first clue about how to truly change these children’s lives. What they know is how to make a lot of money pretending to.  And it goes all the way to the top.  Do you want to know who has the best shot, aside from the parents of these children?  Their teachers.  The ones who devote their lives to helping them.  Even when they know they have no control over what happens outside of their classroom.  Even when they know they will most likely lose that student at the end of the year when they go into the next grade.  Sure, they get tough over the years.  The teachers in high-needs schools see it all.  They see the poverty.  They see the hunger.  They see the disabilities.  They see the cries for help that come out in anger from these kids.  They care so much more than you think they do.  They know a once a year test can’t measure the sum performance of these children.  They also know these tests are flawed, but the only way they can fight this ideology is by making sure these tests don’t stop their ability to try to help your child.

When I hear advocacy groups like PACE talk about “our community”, it makes me sad. I fight some of the exact same battles for students with disabilities but it seems like we are on opposite sides in the fight.  When I hear civil rights groups blasting opt out and continuing these very sick lines that are force fed to them by those who profit off the lies, I have to wonder why.  When they say “our community”, it is not.  All of us, we are all our community.  There should be nothing that divides us.  Not wealth, not religion, not the color of our skin or our hair or our language or the way our eyes are shaped.  Not our disabilities, of which we are all disabled in some way to some degree.  Not who we love or choose to spend our life with.  We all struggle, in our own ways.

Those with money and power are blinded to the realities of the real world. They justify their decisions because they don’t come from that perspective.  They look at us from their microscopes and think they know how to fix it.  And if they can get their buddies to help them out, to fix all those people below them, then it’s a party.  But they either don’t know or don’t care what kind of damage they leave in their wake.  They measure success by their paycheck.  If they make more money, or gain more power, they feel the decisions they make are the right ones.

This is the new racism. The haves and the have-nots.  The same story but with a much different twist.  This time, they are using children in the biggest high-stakes test of all time.  They get richer, while the rest of us either stay the same or slide down the scale.  We allowed this into our schools, slowly, over time.  We believed the lies they were telling us.  So many of us still do.  But this time, they are playing for keeps.  What they are setting up now will forever divide the rich from the poor and the rapidly declining middle class.  They are the ones telling us what to do.  Telling us our children can’t possibly succeed unless we make our schools do what they say.

Every single time your child takes a standardized test, you are giving them the power and the ability to sever themselves from the rest of us. This will continue, until we rise against them.  Rome fell.  The Soviet Union fell.  And Corporate America will fall.  It is the nature of power.  But until we revolt and take back the stability our children need, we will fight this war.  They will pin us against each other while we suffer.  While our children suffer.  The only way to stop it is to stop listening to them.  Demand our teachers be able to adequately instruct our children without the shadow of high-stakes standardized testing looming over their heads.  Demand our children be given better assessments that give true and immediate feedback.  Demand that if they don’t, we won’t let them take their tests.  We will opt them out.

Whatever you do, don’t ever be fooled into believing that your child or their teacher or their school is failing because of a standardized test. Do believe that the measurement, or the growth to that measurement, is designed to keep your child exactly where they are.  Don’t believe that any standardized test will ever show the vast majority of students as proficient.  They will always give the illusion that the majority of students are failing.  This is how those in power stay in power.  They rely on your belief that they are right.  It is their constant energy source.  This is the way they will keep most of the population in low-paying jobs.  They want to control us.  This is 21st Century racism.  End it.  Now.

An Open Letter To Governor Jack Markell

I have tried to stay on the sidelines in the Syrian refugee crisis.  It is a deep concern of mine in many aspects.  My reasons for not publicly commenting on this are very simple.  I don’t want my readers to get sidetracked from education issues I write about.  The extremes on this issue among Delaware citizens is very apparent.  I have seen people de-friend others on Facebook because they don’t agree with their point of view.  There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on these issues.  I see very Liberal citizens completely blasting Democrat politicians because they don’t agree with Governor Markell or President Obama.  I see those on the far right continue to trash those who seek equity in our society.

The plain and simple fact is this: there is a very huge population of people in this world who have no choice but to leave their country for fear of their very lives.  This is the reality.  Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of that and come to other countries to perpetuate terror.  We saw it in Boston and Paris in recent years.  When do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?  When does the safety and concern for a country’s current citizens become more paramount than those who are not even having their basic needs met?  This is the crux of these issues.  Both sides have valid points that warrant further discussion.  What drives me crazy is the polarizing effect this has on social media.  I see this with gay marriage and abortion as well.  I cringe when I see very blatant and racist comments when the News Journal posts anything directly related to race on Facebook.

In matters of education, I fully understand I am extremely polarizing on certain issues.  I have never de-friended someone on Facebook though if they don’t agree with my opinion.  I will argue it until the cows come home, but I won’t shut them out.  As a society, we have become very quick to draw that line in the sand.

With that being said, I am taking a stand on the refugee crisis.  I do not think Americans should be put in harms way for the sake of individuals from another country.  While I realize there is more chance of a plane crash happening than a terrorist attack on US soil, the implications and consequences of another event would be long-term and damaging.  I don’t believe the US Government can say with 100% certainty that the vetting process is reliable.  While there is a chance, I can’t support accepting refugees from Syria.  This will tick off many who believe I am a Progressive Liberal.  If anything I am a Progressive Conservative Independent Republican Democrat.  It really depends on the issues.  In a nutshell, I am in the middle.  On this issue, I don’t think the risk of American lives being lost and disrupted is worth it.  9/11 haunted me for many years.  To this day, I always cry on the anniversary.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, but it felt like America was ripped apart and we lost something that day.  It was our sense of safety and security.

Today I received an email as I do every day from various groups and organizations on both sides of the fence on numerous issues.  Upon reading the below letter, I felt it best exemplified my thoughts and concerns with the refugee crisis.  I am posting it here because it is an important issue and a well written letter that best shows where I stand on this issue.  This does not mean I agree with every single aspect of the groups who signed onto this letter.  But on this issue, I stand with their opinions.  I do not think it is a racism or discrimination issue but rather a safety issue.  There is a very clear distinction between the two.

An Open Letter to Governor Jack Markell,
 
In a unified and sincere concern for the safety and economic health of Delaware’s families, we urge you to reconsider your position to relocate “Syrian refugees” into Delaware communities. We ask that you join the 30 other state governors in placing the safety and reasonable concern of your constituents above any other consideration or agenda.  
 
We all share your compassion for those who are suffering and want those who truly need refuge to get it. Like you, we recognize that true Syrian refugees need a safe harbor. That safe harbor is best found in Middle Eastern countries near their homeland beyond the reach of the present violence. The first and most immediate safe place in the region meets their need for safety. Their need is not tax payer supplied housing and EBT cards in Dover, Newark or Seaford, in a culture completely foreign to their Islamic worldview, and 6000 miles from their known way of life. 
 
We know from the recent European experience that “Syrian refugees” comprise people from a dozen or so countries from Morocco to Afghanistan. Claims in Washington of a robust vetting procedure prior to entry to US are not credible. The FBI has reportedly said it is impossible to vet that many people before they come into our country.  Representative Carney and Senator Coons have both expressed their concerns in light of this information.
 
We are equally concerned that your support for President Obama’s planned action reflects a disconnect from those you serve in Delaware. Delaware families are being profoundly impacted by limited resources including a lack of care for our veterans, also a concern of yours. Heroin use is at an epidemic level in our state and destroying families and communities daily. Wilmington continues to suffer from uncontrolled crime and there is a growing racial discontent.  We still face inequalities and deficiencies in our state’s education system that may likely place added burdens on the state’s budget. The people of Delaware just cannot afford the cost, financial and otherwise, of your plan to add to those needing assistance in our state. 
 
You will recall the Tsarnaev family; taken in by the state of Massachusetts under condition of asylum.  The cost to the taxpayer of their direct and indirect benefits exceeded one million dollars. No one in that family ever became self-sufficient or safely acclimated in the U.S.
 
As you know the two sons of that family killed 3 innocent people with a homemade bomb at the Boston Marathon. Over 200 other innocent people were seriously wounded in the blast.  After years in this country they acted with deadly violence as they believed their faith dictates. 
 
Finally, the Tsarnaev family was fully and completely vetted by our Federal immigration authorities as applicants of asylum. 
 
Ultimately, this “compassionate gesture” is estimated to cost the state over 100 million dollars. This cost extended beyond the social benefits taken by the family. It ultimately included, police operations and manhunt, emergency care for the survivors, hospitalization of the wounded, reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and prostheses needs, business disruption, criminal investigation, state prosecution and public defender costs, and forward projected prison costs; all paid by Massachusetts tax payers.
 
We are faced with new and uncertain dangers that can only increase as we neglect to control those who gain access to our country.  We ask that you block state funding of any sort that would be needed and allocated to resettle this population in Delaware.  Importing persons from a vastly different culture and trying to integrate them is exorbitantly expensive and the unpredictable results can be devastating.
 
Our groups collectively represent many thousands of Delawareans who are passionate, engaged, and aware of the realities of recent events in this world conducted by a few Islamic radicals.  As Governor, your heaviest burden and first concern must be for the safety and common well-being of the people in Delaware.  We ask that you recognize the proven risk associated with similar relocation programs. We further request that you use your authority, in the best interest and public safety of Delaware families and communities, to obstruct President Obama’s ill-considered relocation plan. 
 
Respectfully,
912 Delaware Patriots
Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware
Central Delaware NAACP
Rev. Dr. Shawn Greener
Frederick Douglass Foundation of Delaware – Sussex County
Institute on the Constitution

Red Clay Board Votes To Keep The WEIC Train Moving, But With A Caveat

The Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education had a special meeting tonight to discuss the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission and the redistricting of all Christina School District students into Red Clay.  The biggest issue at this point is funding.  The Board passed a resolution with a 4-1 vote to keep it going, but it was explicitly understood that if the funding is not available, it is dead.   Superintendent Merv Daugherty said if the funding isn’t there by July 1st, 2016, Red Clay will not move forward.

I know many are cheering for this, but I say pull the plug now.  With the budget and elections being the biggest issues in Delaware come January, the General Assembly will have a very hard time justifying the costs for this while making crucial cuts elsewhere.  And there will be cuts without more revenue.  And just wait until it becomes mainstream that the WEIC plan will most likely hinge on an increase in property assessments for the entire state.  I don’t mind paying my fair share for schools, but when the anti-referendum crowd finds out, they will be incensed.  If you thought the right and the left were at odds on some issues now, just wait until that topic becomes a part of social media.  It will get ugly real fast!

I like Tony Allen and many folks on WEIC.  I think their plans are based out of a concerted effort to do what they feel is the right thing for the students of Wilmington.  But this is not the time, not with the monetary issues facing this state.  For all the money all these education foundations and think tanks donate, have we heard any of them offering to pony up some cash?  Hell no.  Because it is a traditional school district thing.  Bank of America is incorporated in Delaware.  You would think they would have pride for not just charter schools but also our traditional schools.  Where is their huge donation to all of this?  They have a crucial player spearheading all this.  Meanwhile, I am hearing more and more people accepting the Common Core but they still hate the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  What many don’t realize is the two go hand in hand.  The reason the test is so jacked up is because it is based on Common Core.  But people are actually calling them “the standards” now.  You can wrap a ribbon around crap, but it is still crap.  Do not be lulled into acceptance folks.

Colonial backed out, and it looks like Brandywine may as well.  Christina’s teachers have no assurances they will be able to keep their jobs if the redistricting goes through.  Christina is going to be facing their own hefty financial issues by the end of this school year.  Murders continue in Wilmington, and Dover is having its fair share of homicides as well.  Drugs are rampant in this state.  We have adults acting out against students, albeit rare, but it is happening.  There is the elephant in the room called racism, and it exists in this state.  It is real, and it is happening right now.  By the time Delaware becomes a powder keg, Governor Jack Markell will exit stage left, leaving a legacy that future generations will come to hate him for.  What will Rodel, the Delaware Department of Education, and the State Board of Education do without their leader once he is gone?  The General Assembly is going to have their hands full, and I can guarantee you if they push the property assessment thing, the landscape of Legislative Hall will look very different come January 2017.

Red Clay Interpreter’s Very Bigoted & Racist Comments Shock Delaware

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After Governor Markell signed Senate Bill 122 and House Bill 148 at the Hockessin Colored School last Tuesday, the Delaware News Journal quickly got a story up on Delawareonline.  On their Facebook page, comments started pouring in, including the above discriminatory and racist comment.  Word has it she is an interpreter for the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  I believe there is a petition going for her to be fired immediately.

This kind of talk should become illegal in our country.  What is wrong with people?  The comment disappeared, but luckily a source got a picture of the very controversial comments….

Publius, Tunnel Vision Is Not A Disability Charter Boy!

Publius over at Kilroy’s Delaware had an epic meltdown cause I insinuated he may be racist last week.  For those who don’t “know” Publius, let me enlighten you.  I’ve been posting comments over on Kilroy’s for the past seventeen months.  It’s how I got my start in blogging writing about my son’s experience at a Delaware charter school.  I always wondered who this one guy named Publius really was.  I figured it out after a few stumbles last December.

Publius is pro-choice.  As in charter school choice.  He thinks all parents should be able to have a choice over which school their child attends.  In theory, he is right.  However, without revealing his true identity, he is waist-deep in the kind of choice that leads to segregation, discrimination, and cherry-picking.  He also thinks high-stakes standardized testing is a “march to proficiency”.  Arguing with him is like fighting with a 500 pound gorilla.  It always comes back to the same thing, his way or the highway.  You can point out logic and reason to him, but if it goes against his modus operandi, he can’t be swayed.

So last week, I had enough.  I’ve always felt he had a bit of racism based on his comments and his true identity.  I honestly asked him how he really feels about African-Americans.  Well this set him over the edge, causing a week-long set of diatribes by Mr. Anonymous (not really, many folks know who he really is).  This culminated in a comment he made in reaction to my telling him he has “tunnel vision” when it comes to choice and charters.  His response?

 “KO “Mr Sensitivity for Disabilities” might want to rethink his blind “tunnel vision” comment.”

To which my response was:

“And if you ever bring up words like “Mr. Sensitivity for Disabilities” again, I will out you as the sniveling weasel of a coward you are. You don’t get to go there you pathetic excuse for a man. Test me, one more time, and everyone will know who you are. Try me…”

Reaction from others was just as strong.  The following is Not Safe For Work…

“Yo Publius ! I am not sure if you know this or not, Kevin is a parent of a special needs child. But even at that not good!” -Kilroy

“KO “Mr Sensitivity for Disabilities” might want to rethink his blind “tunnel vision” comment.” is vile – and crosses every line. Kilroy, don’t give Pube a pass on this – don’t pretend he didn’t know. He knows exactly what he’s doing and KO’s history and story (He’s flippin’ commented on it). Then again, we all know who Pube is (as I’m sure everyone knows who I am).  I watched him prance and skip down the aisle at the board meeting at Brandywine Springs last fall. You go, girl!” -Pandora

“Publius, we all know who you are, a verified asshole.” -John Young

I truly thought Publius would stay away for a while after this, but no, charter boy had to add one more thing today.  This is what he does when he knows he got his hands caught in the cookie jar, he tries to come up with some lame excuse for why the things he says.

“Again, “tunnel vision” is a pejorative which uses visual impairment as an inferred weakness and as a tool to criticize. I can see from all of these constructive comments that I struck your chords. Your collective willingness to “select” what is insensitive and what is not is — (drumroll) — your choice. Isn’t choice grand?” -Publius

Charter Boy just doesn’t get it.  Tunnel Vision is not a disability covered under any of the many under Federal law.  If it was, we all would have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).  I wouldn’t expect Publius to know much about special education, as he is really not that familiar with it at all.  Would I out him?  Possibly.  If he went even further over the line than he has on many occasions.  But I’m sure this was his reaction to my “racism” comment.  I know all about blogger’s honor and all that, but Publius is special.  He is my “blogging nemesis”.  He stands for everything I hate and loathe about Delaware education.  And it isn’t choice.  It’s his special blend of choice that would limit others while holding those who are more advantage under the limelight.

It isn’t a case of charters vs. public schools.  There are charters in this state that are very integrated and serve the average special needs students in their schools.  Nobody has special education perfect as I’ve come to learn.  But his “special sauce” for choice is abhorrent in my opinion.  There are many who agree, and those on the polar opposite who agree with Publius.  One day, he will tick someone off past the point of no return, and everyone will know who he is.  That’s a day I can’t wait for.