Threats and Retaliation: The Thuggish Tactics of the MEA and MCAS Are Real, and It’s Time to Put a Stop to Them

The Montclair Times reported a piece last week about some of the various anonymous folks surrounding the education debates here in town. Notably, they left out whoever it was (Sean Spiller’s NJEA?) that has hired a big national opposition research firm to dig up dirt on local school leaders, which we revealed evidence of last week.

One thing that came through clearly from all of us who offered comments for the reporter was that there was a fear of retaliation against folks for speaking out.

Montclair Kids First (the reporter’s research seemed a bit sloppy to us, since they didn’t mention that at least one member of that group has come forward, and another community member has said publicly that they’ll be a part of it) said:

As far as the membership and the organization, the families involved are deeply concerned about potential retaliation against their children, and they will communicate their membership as they feel they can do so safely.

We said:

Normal folks just want our schools to work well, they don’t want to be screamed at by a union organizer or activist about how they are part of some make believe corporate takeover. And in that kind of situation, people wanting to protect their kids from retaliation is understandable.

AssessmentGate, the-MCAS/MEA-attack-dog-who-even-attacks-the-district’s-efforts-to-provide-breakfast, said:

The blogger said the reason for staying anonymous was concern about retribution by the Board of Education, and does not intend to make a public appearance at a board meeting in the near future.

In AssessmentGate’s case, it does make a lot of sense for them to be concerned about protecting their identity – not because of threats, but just because they probably actually broke the law, or at the very least the rules governing their employment with the district, as we’ve written about before. And interestingly – perhaps due to increased scrutiny and not wanting to be exposed – AssessmentGate seems to have disappeared their facebook page.

But as we’ve mentioned before, the problems here are real, with real threats being made against folks (including us, even if they were misguided) and aggressive efforts at intimidation.

Lots of normal folks have expressed their concern about the aggressive, hostile, uncivil tone of the MEA and MCAS that has dominated meetings and made their contributions impossible.

We’ve seen a lot of comments to this effect in discussions over on BaristaNet and elsewhere, and it’s worth highlighting that this is a real – and deeply sad concern. But unfortunately, as has been our own experience the concerns of these parents about the thuggish tactics of the MEA and MCAS are very real. We were passed along a story by a friend about a friend who spoke up at a meeting recently against the MEA’s line. They’re active in their kid’s school, and typically on friendly terms with the staff. But when they went to the school the next morning, they were treated with outright hostility, and even ignored by staff they normally interact with well. This is an outrageous politicization of the schools that the MEA has led, and it needs to be stopped.

We wanted to highlight a few others of the comments we’ve seen about this phenomena to emphasize that it’s a real problem that needs to be dealt with by the incoming superintendent and the board, because the tactics of the MEA and MCAS are way out of line and highly destructive to our schools and our communities.

This comment had some good personal examples we thought were worth sharing:

On the other hand, we’re not speaking of fear for adults. Some parents are afraid to speak because they fear anger against them taken out on their children. An adult can handle such things. A child may not have any understanding of what’s occurring. I therefore find myself sympathetic to such concerns.

Is the concern realistic? My wife spoke recently at a BOE meeting. She was praising the work of one of our teachers at Hillside, and how that teacher had done an incredible job of fanning the flame of creativity in one of our sons. For this, she was yelled at by a neighbor that works in the schools and called (among other things) “pathetic”. Apparently, she violated the narrative that teachers aren’t able to teach creativity in our schools.

Even praising teachers risks inciting anger.

Also mentioned was the video that Amy has voluntarily (in fact: eagerly) produced over the last couple of years celebrating our teachers for the Weston Awards. Again, apparently, this celebration of teacher excellence is somehow offensive.

And this mom’s blog post delved into some of the same issues:

To BOE or not to BOE – Opting out of the toxic environment

It’s turned into long week of Montclair BOE budget meetings, and tomorrow night’s public workshop is sure to be tense and stressful for everyone in attendance. Truth be told, I can’t go to BOE meetings anymore. The tone is too toxic. Speakers are hostile in their presentations, and the audience encourages it.

Increasingly, it seems like that’s what people want and expect from meetings. If you aren’t part of the gang from Montclair Cares About Schools or the unions, you’ll be booed and harassed.

But there is SO much on the table right now. We should be able to have a real debate, rather than the mob mentality that consistently silences deviating opinion. Most people have some stake in the proposed cuts, and while the proposals have mobilized some select groups (the pro-paraprofessionals, for example) it has definitely also discouraged others. Why would I spend my Friday night being yelled at by community members when I can distraughtly watch from the comfort of my home and personalized Facebook debate?

That this is a real problem speaks to how badly the MEA, under the leadership of Shepard, and their proxy attack dogs in MCAS and Michelle Fine, have damaged our district and our community. It’s really disturbing that folks that aspire to be leaders like David Cummings and Anne Mernin have been willing to tolerate, validate, and even join in on this sort of threatening, harassing behavior, but it’s time for it to stop, and it’s their responsibility to fix the mess they’ve enabled and stand up to the bullies from MCAS and the MEA. If they can’t show any actual leadership, they need to step aside.

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