The Montclair Times recently finished a two part series on education advocacy groups here in Montclair. Their first article included some comments from us as part of a piece about some of the folks weighing in. Their second piece pretty much just focuses on MCAS, and to say it’s a disappointing piece of journalism would be a real understatement. The main reason we started writing this blog was because we felt that the town’s publications weren’t doing enough to evaluate or fact check the claims made by these folks like MCAS and the MEA who were attacking the district.
“MCAS seeks to inform the public about issues we believe are important and to encourage open public dialogue on these issues,” Tuma said.
We’re fairly disappointed that Times decided to repeat Regina Tuma’s lies about supporting “open public dialogue.” But it’s the unquestioning presentation of her last claim by the paper that should make anyone who’s followed this debate even a little bit cringe:
Tuma also encouraged anyone who attends board meetings to speak out, whether they support or disagree with MCAS’s positions, saying that the group has “always stood for an open, public dialogue in which all points of view are heard and respected.”
Let’s take a look at some of the “open public dialogue” that MCAS – and Michelle Fine, Regina Tuma, Maia Davis, Marcella SImidaris, et al – promotes:
As the meeting came to a close, frustrations ran high between board members and the public. Resident Marcella Simadiris stormed out after an exchange of disagreeing words between her and Larson. She stormed out yelling back at Larson, “Your evil is transparent!”
Shouting and storming out of a meeting while yelling at “Your evil is transparent!” at a public meeting seems like respectful public dialogue, right? THIS is the type of behavior MCAS encourages, and the Montclair Times reporter has been to enough meetings to know it, so it’s disappointing that he carried their misleading statements in his reporting without providing any additional content.
Of course, we have lots more examples. When MCAS doesn’t agree with the BOE, they angrily walk out of the meeting, shouting on their way out:
When the Board finally voted on the plan close to 11 pm, the Strategic Plan was passed unanimously. A group of opponents walked out, yelling, “Shame! Shame!” Shortly after the plan passed, Montclair Cares About Schools commented on their Facebook page that the board was “deaf to community concerns” and expressed disappointment over the BOE calling the community “misinformed”—a charge Dr. MacCormack had made repeatedly throughout the meeting. But Board member Tanya Coke, in announcing her intention to vote yes, said that she believed the plan would help close the 40 percent achievement gap between the lowest performing and highest performing students.
Here’s another example, from an account we posted last year of their disruption of an Achievement Gap Panel meeting:
Starting off was Marcus Walton, who provided a refreshing and respectful presentation filled with valuable historical references on racial inequality.
In the middle of his wonderful, thoughtful and kind presentation, two of Michelle Fine’s Lieutenants – Marcella Simadiris and Kelly Sweatt walked in the meetings.
They arrived at least 25 mins late.
Instead of sitting with the others who were not part of the Committee, they decided they should sit with the Committee, so in the middle of Mr. Walton’s presentation they started moving chairs and disrupting the presentation. So they sat with Committee members instead of in the back with the other non-Committee members.
After a few minutes, Ms. Simadiris and Ms. Sweatt asked Mr. Walton to stop his presentation so their questions could be addressed.
Mr. Walton was very accommodating. He stopped his presentation and let them talk.
After over 20 minutes of their talking, the whole Committee began getting restless. People on both sides of the issue urged Ms. Simadiris and Ms. Sweatt to please allow Mr. Walton to continue his valuable presentation. Some member of the Committee were so upset at their rudeness they walked out of the meeting area… Instead of continuing to listen to the Committee reports or possibly offer to join the Committee so they could engage and be part of the conversation, Ms. Sweatt and Ms. Simadiris did the most dishonorable thing, they got up and left!
What it proved to everyone in the room was that instead of being interested in finding solutions, they goal was to simply disrupt and discredit. Based on their actions they showed they had no interest in listening to others, only themselves. This is very similar to how Ms. Simadiris often speaks more than her allotted time during Public Comment of Board meetings, taking time away from others.
After they walked out some were noticeably shaken by the two of them. People were upset at how incorrect their assumptions were about the Committee. People were upset that Ms. Sweatt and Ms. Simadiris sabotaged a great community dialogue.
Here’s an example from the March 16 BOE meeting, where the MCAS folks boo and shout over Shelly Lombard speaking when they disagree with her (68:36 video 1 of 2 during the March 16, 2015 BOE meeting). Spoiler: the audience’s boos and angry shouts mask Lombard’s statements. Responding to the booing, Lombard said:
“I’m disappointed with the people who come up and accuse people of censorship… misuse of dollars, and suppression of oppression, but shout down anyone who comes to the mic to express a view that’s different than theirs.”
That’s exactly right – but that’s the MCAS version of democracy. We attack you, we shout you down. We bully and harass others, and then we claim to be the defenders of democracy. And that’s why they are the problem, and they are the ones responsible for the hostile debate around our schools. They need to be put aside by the district and town’s leadership.
We’ve written about the threats and retaliatory attacks from MCAS, and there’s plenty of evidence out there of it. Instead of repeating MCAS’s lies, the Montclair Times should have told their readers the truth about MCAS’s tactics, and their attacks on their fellow citizens trying to participate in democracy.