ALBANY, N.Y. -- Parents are upset by an announcement that the state education commissioner's office suspended four upcoming town hall meetings on the newly-implemented Common Core standards following a meeting last week at Spackenkill High School.
Those cancellations include a meeting set for October 24th at Williamsville North High School.
A loud and often critical crowd filled the Spackenkill auditorium Thursday for a meeting with Education Commissioner John King. The crowd challenged him and offered sometimes angry comments on the new learning standards, which were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and adopted by many states, according to Journal archives.
"While our goal was to provide an opportunity to learn and share, based on review of the initial October 10 meeting, the Commissioner concluded the outcome was not constructive for those taking the time to attend," the PTA, a parent, teacher and student advocacy group, posted on its Facebook page Friday. The town hall meetings had been scheduled to take place this month across the state, it said. The announcement also was made on the group's website, www.nyspta.org.
"I believe that Commissioner King is running away. He doesn't want to be challenged by the parents or anybody else," said Lisa DiStefano, 38, a mother of three from Pleasant Valley, who attended the meeting Thursday.
DiStefano said if parents no longer have a say in their children's education, that the state Education Department is "acting as an authoritarian, telling us we don't want to listen because you no longer have any rights."
Anna Shah, 41, a parent in the Spackenkill district, said the PTA's flier for the event advertised it as an opportunity to gather information, ask questions and share concerns with King and other education department representatives.
"Those of us who were at the meeting saw firsthand that Dr. King must have missed the memo," she said via email. "The meeting ended abruptly after five speakers presented, leaving at least 75 who were denied the chance to speak."
Shah said parents have legitimate concerns regarding his educational reform policies that are affecting their children.
"He should at least have the decency to listen to our concerns and defend his decisions publicly," she said.
Glen Dalgleish, 50, of Port Chester, Westchester County, said he went to the meeting at Spackenkill because he and his wife have been working on a grass-roots effort to fight Common Core, including creating a Facebook group, Stop Common Core in New York State, which has just under 4,000 members.
"It's a disgrace that they've been canceled," he said. "We only have a few opportunities to voice our concerns publicly. That's why we attended this meeting - so other parents could hear the dangers and pitfalls of Common Core. These are the only opportunities we get."
Dalgleish said he opposes Common Core because it is "one-size-fits-all," emotionally distressing to special-needs students and there is not enough transparency around testing, among other concerns.
State Education Commissioner John King said the decision to abruptly "suspend" four public forums on the newly implemented Common Core standards was made because they had been "co-opted by special interests."
King had agreed to appear at five forums across the state sponsored by the New York State PTA, with the first held Thursday in Poughkeepsie. But King faced a barrage of sometimes loud and angry criticism from those who spoke at the first meeting, and the remaining four dates were canceled Friday.
In a statement, King said the meeting was disrupted by "special interests whose stated goal is to 'dominate' the questions and manipulate the forum." The remaining dates were scheduled near Buffalo, Utica, Albany and on Long Island.
"In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended," King said. "My office will continue to work with PTA to find the appropriate opportunities to engage in a real, productive dialogue with parents about our students and their education."
The Common Core is a set of new, more stringent standards for public education in New York that were installed last school year. The standards have led to frustration among some parents and teachers, who say they place too strong of an emphasis on high-stakes, high-pressure tests.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the state PTA said King "concluded the outcome was not constructive for those taking the time to attend."
"Please know that NYS PTA will continue to work with all education and child advocacy partners to keep our members updated and informed on education, health, safety and welfare issues affecting children and families," the group wrote.
Here's King's full statement:
"I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state. I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we're moving ahead with in New York State. Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to "dominate" the questions and manipulate the forum.
"The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. Essentially, dialogue has been denied.
"In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended. My office will continue to work with PTA to find the appropriate opportunities to engage in a real, productive dialogue with parents about our students and their education.
"Parents don't deserve to be dominated and manipulated."
The PTA said it would continue to work with education and child-advocacy partners to keep its members updated and informed.
You can send Commissioner King a message by clicking on this link. 2 On Your Side will make sure each and every message is delivered to his office.
Emily Stewart-Poughkeepsie Journal/Jon Campbell-Gannett Albany Bureau