A New York Guide on How to Grow Your State’s Opt Out Movement
by Long Island Opt Out’s Jeanette Deutermann
The opt out movement in NY sprang to life in 2012 with a handful of parents, scattered around Long Island, upstate, and downstate NY, deciding to refuse to allow their children to be subjected to the new NYS assessments. It was around this time that I was beginning to see the symptoms of high stakes testing on my own son, and research led me to the NYS Refuse the Tests Facebook group. I wanted to provide information on a local level, and in February 2013, Long Island Opt Out was created. Over the course of that year, activists from other areas of NY started similar opt out Facebook pages, and myself and other leaders began to communicate, coordinate, and share ideas. Leaders all across the state came together for a meeting on a summer day, and decided to form an “umbrella” organization so we could more formally coordinate the entire state. New York State Allies for Public Education was born. NYSAPE is critical for offering a unified voice for the entire state through press releases, a very strong social media presence, a share house of information and resources on our website and being the “go to” for quotes and responses for print, radio, and tv media.
During this time, I continued to grow Long Island Opt Out, recruiting volunteers to serve as “liaisons” for their respective districts. Long Island comprises of 124 separate school districts, with separate Boards of Education and Administrators. This was crucial to our success. Each district “liaison” (often working in teams of 2-3) was responsible for creating their own district opt out Facebook group page and forming relationships with administrators, BOE members, local unions, and district PTA’s. Throughout each school year, liaisons would also help coordinate district forums or presentations. They would schedule free meeting spaces in local libraries, advertise on community social media sites, and coordinate with the teacher unions for assistance. I would bring in a panel of speakers often consisting of a parent (myself), a teacher, an administrator, and possibly a college professor. This would offer the audience a wide range of perspectives on topics covering everything from high stakes testing, to common core, to privatization.
Speaking in person to parents was extremely motivating, and often generated increases in opt out participation wherever we presented. One example was a district that had a very large Hispanic population and a 2% opt out rate. Our presentation was just weeks before the tests in 2016, included speakers presenting in Spanish and was very well attended with help from organizations within the community. Three weeks later, 30% of the district opted out. Our organization and its leaders got involved in Board of Education elections, offering endorsements and social media exposure. Over the past two years, over a hundred of our endorsed candidates were elected to school boards all across the Island, including a dozen or more of my own liaisons. Some districts have been entirely transformed through these actions.
Threats are a way of life for an opt out parent and opt out leaders. Threats from the USDOE, the State Education Department, and our own district Administrators and BOE’s. The key to overcoming these threats is arming parents with information. A well informed parent is a confident parent. Parents also know that we have their back. If someone is threatened, we put the force and networking of our entire organization behind the parent(s). We use social media, mainstream media (we have a great relationship with local and regional newspaper and tv media), petitions, and open letters, to help parents with any bullying or threat tactics.
As for the “this could happen” threats from USDOE and SED, we continually remind parents that we are all in this together (what happens to one will happen to all when the movement is this expansive), and that many of these threats have been given time and time again with no result. Over 90% of our NYS districts failed to meet the 95% tested requirement. As such, the threat to lower our ratings is meaningless. I have always said many of these threats will have to be resolved in the courts, as is happening in Florida. We have common sense and the will of the people on our side.