NEW ROCHELLE, NY — New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne has sent a letter to all Pedagogical Staff and Administrators in the City School District of New Rochelle warning them of consequences if they encourage test refusals.
We are all aware that there is a movement among some parents to refuse to have their children participate in State assessment testing. However, while the New York State Education Department has acknowledged that parents cannot be forced to have their children tested, it has made it very clear that teachers and administrators may not encourage test refusals. I understand that the entire issue of State testing is one which is being hotly debated, and as to which reasonable people may differ. However, we may not engage in that debate by encouraging parents to make test refusal decisions for their children.
“This is not a free speech issue,” said Osborne.
In the letter, Osborne wrote: “In your capacity as a private citizen, you remain entitled to hold and express your opinions about the wisdom of State assessments in any public forum of your choice. However, our communications with parents and students, in our capacities as School District employees, do not constitute speech in a public forum, and there are limits as to the opinions which we may present to them in that context.”
The letter comes in the wake of reports that teachers at several schools have been telling students, some as young as eight years old, that the tests are “dumb” or “stupid” or “a waste of time” and that they should tell their parents to refuse to have them take the test.
Osborne warned District employees that the New York State Education Department has “made it very clear that teachers and administrators may not encourage test refusals”.
“The State Education Department and the Commissioner of Education have broad jurisdictional authority over all public school districts in New York State, and their powers include, under appropriate circumstances, commencing investigations, withholding State aid, initiating proceedings to revoke teaching and administrative certificates, and, in extreme cases, replacing Boards of Education.”
In his letter, Osborne revealed that State Education officials have told superintendents around the state that districts should report any conduct by classroom teachers or principals related to opting out of State assessments that could affect the teacher’s or principal’s APPR score to the Test Integrity Unit of OSPRA at SED.
Osborne closed by asking teachers and administrators not to not engage in any communication or other actions in their capacities as School District employees which could reasonably be interpreted as encouraging test refusal.
“You must remain, at the very most, scrupulously neutral.” said Osborne. “A failure to do so may have serious adverse consequences for both you and the School District.”
FUSE members have organized against the state assessments. As part of a broader NYSUT strategy to undermine the Common Core/APPR regime in New York, union members across the state were asked to opt their own children out of the ELA and Math Assessments scheduled for next week. This weekend union members will be handing out flyers and lobbying parents to opt their children out of the tests.
Several union members have told Talk of the Sound that FUSE told them that while they could not tell students to tell their parents to opt them out out of the tests, they could tell students in their classroom that they had opted their own children out of the test and explain why.
The issue comes down to whether a teacher telling students that they opted-out their own children and why could “reasonably be interpreted as encouraging test refusal”.
UPDATE: FUSE President Martin Daly issued a reply this afternoon to a letter sent to school staff this morning by Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne warning them of consequences should they engage in encouraging parents to refuse to take the upcoming New York State assessments.
Daly took issue with the timing of Osborne’s letter, characterizing it as an attempt to suppress the First Amendment rights of union members.
“Do not be coerced into silence.” wrote Daly.
As Talk of the Sound has previously reported, FUSE members will be active this weekend throughout the City — handing out flyers opposing Common Core and encouraging parents to opt their children out of the state tests.
Daly did acknowledge that Osborne was correct in advising district employees they may not encourage parents to refuse the state tests in the classroom or on school grounds.
“…in school, when speaking to parents as a teacher or school employee, we cannot make direct recommendations about whether or not parents should refuse the tests for their children,” wrote Daly. “We may direct them to other parents or to websites where they can become familiar with the debate over testing in order to help them make an informed choice.”
Daly went on to stress that union members should never “directly encourage a parent to refuse the tests for his/her child(ren) while serving in our capacity a school employee while “on duty.””
That said, Daly made clear that union members had every right to express their views about the state tests on their own time, off school grounds.
“Though we clearly must respect the limitations placed on us as public employees while “on duty” we do not surrender any of our First Amendment rights to speak, out on our own time about the destructive effects these tests and the agenda for “reform” that they represent pose to our cherished public school system.”
Osborne, for his part, noted this point in his earlier letter, that ”as a private citizen you are entitled to hold and express opinions about the state assessments in any public forum of your choice.”