Standing Up To Bullies

Standing Up To Bullies

"The education establishment’s bullies have made clear from the get-go they will stop at nothing to block Choice Schools for students."

Readers may recall my previous column about the ongoing machiavellian smear campaign being waged against HB 562, the Community Choice Schools Act, and the families who support Choice Schools. The powerful education establishment’s bullies are running rampant, targeting anyone who dares question the status quo with attacks and vitriol. Thankfully, some courageous Montanans are standing up to the bullies and last month were granted permission to defend Choice Schools in the courts as HB 562 undergoes litigation.

As a reminder, HB 562 enables communities to join together and create new student-centered public schools that will have greater flexibility to focus on specific learning preferences while remaining free and open to all. With HB 562, Montana finally joins 45 other states authorizing public charter schools (Choice Schools under Montana’s unique framework) as options for families.

The education establishment’s bullies have made clear from the get-go they will stop at nothing to block Choice Schools for students. Since the very first legislative debates they’ve deceptively characterized Choice Schools as “private schools”– an intentional and outright lie that has been soundly debunked. With HB 562 now signed into law, the mudslinging has become more brazen. One County Commissioner said people who create Choice Schools are corporate scammers who “leech public school resources and turn kids into widgets.” Another recent columnist, a former public school teacher and state lawmaker, smeared Choice School supporters as wealthy “carpetbaggers” who want to “divide our children and our communities.”

Few people are willing to stand up publicly to these bully tactics and risk having their name drug through the mud. Luckily, three Montanans recently entered the lawsuit challenging HB 562 to defend Choice Schools, and they are proving the bullies dead wrong.

This month, Judge Abbott granted a motion allowing Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy (D – Box Elder), Special Education Teacher Kasey Koehler, and Tribal Educator Connie Filesteel to intervene in the HB 562 lawsuit and defend Choice Schools.

In court filings, Rep. Windy Boy described himself as an “ardent and early supporter” of HB 562 and explained his desire to create a Choice School on the Chippewa Cree Reservation with an immersive dual language component to teach both English and the language of the Chippewa and Cree. He believes there are “many students whose needs are not being met within the traditional public school system.”

Another one of the intervening defendants, Kasey Koehler of Miles City, is a former public school administrator and special education teacher who wants to create a Choice School focused on helping students with special needs. Kasey believes “the traditional public school model fails many of these students” who would benefit from a flexible curriculum that groups students by learning level, rather than by chronological age.

The third intervening defendant is Connie Filesteel, an experienced educator who wants to create a Choice School on the Fort Belknap Reservation providing a unique Montessori program with dual language instruction. She says traditional public school models “fall short in providing American Indian students the academic and cultural knowledge they need to meet their full potential.”

Importantly, the intervenors emphasize they cannot create their schools under the pathway for public charter schools provided by HB 549, the education establishment’s charter school legislation.

The three intervening defendants in the HB 562 lawsuit are proof that Choice School supporters aren’t “carpetbaggers” who want to “turn kids into widgets” – they are Montanans of all different stripes and backgrounds who believe the public school status quo is failing students and want to do something about it. I say good for them.

This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers.

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