Massachusetts · Rhode Island · School Talk

Keep Your Politics Out of Back-to-School-Night (and in your “private office”)

‘Tis the season of back to school nights and open houses for parents. And that means it’s also the season for the pushing of political agendas at totally inappropriate times in an effort to get unwitting parents to buy what the local teachers’ union is selling. But it is wrong to urge parents to be engaged in their child’s education only to bombard them with political pressure the first time they step into school in September in order to do just that. To engage.

Parents attend back to school nights and open houses to meet teachers, see classrooms, learn about their child’s upcoming year, and get a general sense of what a day in the life of their school-aged child is really like. They learn about rules and school policies and leave being able to put a name with a face when their kids talk about their teachers at home.

There is reason to be concerned, however, that union groups and some politically active teachers are hijacking this annual tradition for parents and using it to peddle their political views on everything from the Common Core to a Massachusetts ballot question regarding charter schools.

Inappropriate but also Inaccurate?

A local high school teacher here in Rhode Island recently used her platform in front of parents to spew wildly inaccurate information about the Common Core state standards and then blame those falsehoods on why she is no longer able to teach what she wants the way she wants. The problem with this is two fold: first, she’s using a totally inappropriate forum to complain about state education policy and secondly, and most concerning, is that she is spreading inaccurate information to people who trust her to be informed and know what she’s talking about.

And on the topic of Common Core, she got it wrong. Twice. And while most parents in the room are likely to believe her because they don’t live and breathe education policy and academic standards, some do.  And one happens to have a kid in this teacher’s class.

And Next Door in Massachusetts

In neighboring Massachusetts, education politics has become front and center as voters prepare to vote on a question related to public charter schools. Ballot Question 2 will determine whether or not the cap on charter schools will be lifted to allow for cities like Boston, Holyoke, Chelsea, Lowell, Everett, and Springfield to open up more charter seats for the many thousands of children on wait lists. And again, we are seeing a major blurring of the lines when it comes to school events and union politics. The most recent example is in Andover, an affluent suburb that will never be impacted by the charter cap but who, like many suburbs, has a teachers’ union that is hell bent on making sure Question 2 is voted down.

And in Andover, politics was front and center as parents turned out for the annual open house hosted by the school district. Not only were staff clad in “No on 2” buttons and holding matching signs but posters were up on the walls and signs were placed in the ground.

A picture of a middle school wall during Open House for parents in Andover. (photo credit Andover Townsman)

In a nutshell, it’s the quintessential example of how the ballot question in Massachusetts is really about white suburban voters with good schools being given the power to determine whether or not poor parents of color should able to access decent schools for their own kids.  Pretty twisted, huh?

And here’s what the union signs might as well have said:

Welcome to Back to School Night and by the way, even though the charter cap will never impact you, can you please vote to make sure poor folks who could never afford a house in Andover are kept from having good schools like the ones you already enjoy? 

But here’s what the rule (which they broke) actually says:

According to Massachusetts state Ethics Commission Advisory 11-1: Public Employee Political Activity, Massachusetts public employees may wear political buttons “to work in a private office,” but they cannot use public property or resources to advocate for a campaign.

The advisory goes on to say that “a public employee may not engage in political activity … on his public work time … (or) in a public building.”

Selectman Bob Landry of Andover, MA

Town selectman Bob Landry is none too pleased.

In speaking about the teachers he said, “they took advantage of Open House Week to promote a political agenda.”

And he goes on to say this:

In my view, Open Houses should be for parents to meet teachers and to learn about the upcoming school year. Open Houses should not be used as a campaign opportunity for unions (or anyone) looking to advance a political agenda to a captive audience of Andover parents. I realize that some of the union’s activities were permissible, like wearing ‘No on 2 buttons,’ but that didn’t make it right. (Andover Townsman)

And he’s right.

It really does get tiresome seeing wealthy suburbs (or at least their teachers’ associations) smile and wave from atop their prohibitively expensive perches while they engage in a concerted and well organized union funded effort to keep more than 30,000 children out of the better schools that their parents want for them.

The median listing price for a home in Andover is $679,900. And in Newton where they’ve been awash in Vote No propaganda since the first day of school, that median listing price jumps to a whopping $1,029,000.


It’s really not a good look for schools or their almost all white staffs in towns where most families could never afford to live to be cheerfully pushing for poor parents to have zero choices about where to send their children to school. So until these towns are willing to comply with affordable housing mandates and welcome low income families into their communities and their schools, there really is only one option that is morally sound. And it ain’t the one the unions are pushing on parents at back-to-school night.

#VoteYeson2 to #liftthecap

What do you think?

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