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New Information Regarding the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Weaponization of RPS Funding and what it means to Parental/Child Rights.
A week ago, the Reading Post published a lengthy letter I had written to the people of this town. In the event you did not see it, or lacked the stamina to completely read it, I outlined how the Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Reilly had essentially become a de facto Education and Public Health Czar for 400 public school districts across the Commonwealth.
Within the piece, I explained that Reilly was given this power in a 9-1 vote by the Massachusetts Board of Education, a board that is entirely made up of political appointees who were themselves enabled by Governor Charlie Baker to do so.
Armed with new, wide ranging and unchecked powers, I went on to detail how Reilly chose to wield them. More specifically, I explored how one man, single handedly weaponized the primary state funding vehicle for public schools- Chapter 70 funding, as a means to extort School Committees to ignore your rights as parents and the rights of your children over their own body.
The extraordinary length of my letter was primarily due to the highly contextual nature of the developments before and after Reilly (through DESE) imposed statewide “Mask Mandates” onto cities and towns. The goal of my letter was to help past, present, or future, Parents and Guardians in our community, thoroughly understand how their basic rights were under attack.
At its core, the message was simple:
Irrespective of your position on or about COVID-19, your School Committee, by virtue of its silent compliance was setting a precedent, that the Town of Reading was willing to accept sweeping authoritarian Public Health mandates, specifically designed to circumvent Human Rights, as a new condition to funding that has absolutely nothing to do with Public Health Policy whatsoever.
By stating that unvaccinated, unmasked students would not have their “in-person” education hours “count” towards the town’s allotted hours as a condition of it’s Chapter 70 funding, it appeared as though DESE was saying “the only kids that count are ones who are vaccinated and/or masked”.
In fact, this sentiment was further reinforced by DESE’s own “off-ramp” option for schools. Under this option, schools with a minimum of 80% of its school population vaccinated would be able to sign a document “attesting” that the 80% of vaccinated students/staff could take the masks off- thereby creating a leper class of student/faculty with the unvaccinated portion of the population having to remain masked for an indeterminate amount of time.
Given DESE’s remarkably consistent and militant approach to the matter, it is not improbable to consider that the “leper class” could, in time, face the “choice” of getting vaccinated to simply be in a position to participate in Public Education.
Regardless of what the “End Game” looks like for DESE, their approach is designed to normalize the concept of willingly relinquishing your rights as a citizen to people you don’t know, whose reasons and logic are unclear, without making a compelling case that it is in your best interests, beyond them saying that it is.
As if entirely removing a need for informed, Parental or Individual Consent wasn’t enough, DESE’s extortion of School Committees have already started to normalize the concept that the people we elect to represent us in our community will become the enforcement/compliance arm for people we didn’t elect, that don’t care about us, outside of our community.
What Has Changed?
At the conclusion of my letter, I drew two distinct outcomes:
- The RPS School Committee, by virtue of being incapable, unwilling or both, made the conscious choice to not appeal or take legal action against the Massachusetts Board of Education in defense of the people they are elected to represent and the children they raise. I do not see how this committee, as constituted, retains any credibility in this town moving forward if they cannot stand for the ability of people in this town to chose what is right for them.
I suggested that those who could not/would not reaffirm their service and actions in support of the best interests of this town’s entire constituency- resign immediately.
- What DESE is doing to Reading is wrong, unconstitutional, and probably illegal. I suggested that the town should marshal its resources and aggressively pursue a resolution that removes any conditions on Chapter 70 funds that are not part of its original, core design. More importantly, by taking a stand, Reading could have established a recent, legal precedent that will protect future generations against this manner of improper tyranny.
I suggested that, in parallel of these two items, that we move immediately to strike down all mandates and go through the budgetary exercise of scoping the “cost” of restoring Parental and Student informed consent without coercion of any kind.
I proceeded to use DESE’s own statements, the statements of our own Superintendent, what I had learned from the School Committee, and what I had learned from meeting with individuals within the Administration to “back into” the penalty Reading Public Schools would have to pay for parents to regain the rights they never should have lost in the first place.
My closing argument was that, despite Chapter 70 funding accounting for approximately $10.9MM (or 19%) of the RPS Budget, the likely “worst case scenario” was that 18% of our student body and faculty would remain unvaccinated by January, with no intent to ever receive a vaccine.
I hypothesized further that an undetermined proportion of that remaining unvaccinated 18% would potentially opt for, on their own volution to remain masked. Therefore, using DESE’s own logic and everything I had learned, the “real price of freedom was around 2.8% of the total RPS budget or $1.57MM.
It turns out that I was wrong.
It Turns Out I Gave DESE and the RPS School Committee Too Much Credit.
My first mistake was in thinking that DESE’s logic behind its weaponization of Chapter 70 funding was rooted in Public Health or Safety in the first place.
As we discussed, Chapter 70 funds are determined based on the total number of students enrolled on a particular day at the start of each school year and their usage is tied to a minimum number of “in person learning hours” per student, over the course of that year.
When I first began my understanding of this topic, I believed that DESE was using this as a means to get more people to vaccinate and vaccinate their children than they might normally would have by setting this “80% threshold” for each school.
I interpreted their statement of “unvaccinated, unmasked student” in-person learning hours will not count towards the Chapter 70 funding, as fully vaccinated students and unvaccinated, masked students do count.
Despite law, science and the holistic universe of facts not supporting DESE’s tactics or thought process, someone “could” make the case that DESE’s stance was rooted in a “risk analysis”. Granted, it would be the flimsiest of arguments and nobody would believe them, but they could try.
The Reality is So Much Worse Than That.
I was contacted by a couple parents who, as a result of my letter a week ago reached out to Tom Wise and other members of the Administration to advocate stopping compliance with DESE and Commissioner Reilly’s illegal, unethical and harmful mandates.
I’ll let Tom Wise’s own words stand on their own below:
“If we lift the mandate for all, and thus, do not enforce masking for the unvaccinated, the ENTIRE SCHOOL loses that “time on learning” and thus the funding. It isn’t proportional the % of students and staff unvaccinated…then we are facing losing 1/180th (approximately) of the funding for every day we do not have the mandate in place. If the $10.9 MM number in the letter to the editor is correct, that means we would lose approximately $60.55K per day…
…Finally, as for my role as Chair, I don’t have any special rights here and should not operate outside the will of the Committee as a whole. Unfortunately, that means if people want change, advocacy needs to move to our State Representatives and State Senator…
…What I can do as the Chair, in concert with the Superintendent and Vice Chair, is continue to put data review on the agenda, continue to gather the data, continue to present the data and continue to facilitate discussion amongst the Committee. I also pledge to continue to listen, process feedback and internally advocate where I can in support of parents and their children….
I know that isn’t the answer you wanted to hear. However, it is the reality and 100% factual. I hope it make sense and you understand our positions, abilities and control (or lack thereof) more now.”
Did you know that our School Committee doesn’t have any control of our Schools?
Did you know that the “data” that’s reviewed and discussed in School Committee Meetings as if it has some role in the decision-making process has been complete theatre for the last 3 months?
Wise is the HEAD of the School Committee and he just said in his own words that:
- He wasn’t sure if the $10.9MM figure was accurate.
- He cannot compel his own Committee to explore options to legally defend the rights and funding of the Schools that he and his Committee (literally) exist to protect.
- While he “pledges to continue to listen, process feedback and internally advocate” there’s literally nothing he can do to affect any change whatsoever.
Tom Wise just told you in no uncertain terms that the Reading Massachusetts School Committee is completely subjugated by Education & Public Health Czar Jeffrey C. Reilly. This means that your life and the life of your children has been completely subjugated by Education & Public Health Czar Jeffrey C. Reilly since August.
You just didn’t know it because Tom Wise and his Committee failed to tell you. They are instead, content to sit up there and act like they are in charge, act like any public comment actually matters and that YOUR WORDS might actually get through to them.
Now it makes a lot more sense why Wise is only letting people speak for three minutes. It doesn’t matter.
MAYBE (JUST MAYBE) IT NEVER MATTERED.
What a Mess.
We have learned a lot this past year about the School Committee.
- We learned that they have standards to live up to yet are powerless to hold their members accountable to them.
- We learned that despite representing the community, they are not compelled to respond to anyone in the community if they do not choose to.
- We learned that they can pretty much do anything they want as long as they can get 50 letters to pack a packet on a given issue to create the illusion of outrage and/or consensus.
- We learned that despite being provided with real studies and correspondence from medical professionals exploring the downside of their misinformed policies- they are not compelled to read them or do anything with them.
- We learned that despite serving in a Representative Democracy, they do not understand its meaning or what to do when that system is challenged by illegal acts (like DESE’s).
Lastly, we learned that they didn’t even attempt to solve the problem.
Do you know how I know? I know because Wise didn’t know if the $10.9MM figure was accurate and because I had a conversation with the Head of Finance for RPS and got that figure in about five minutes.
Wise does not know the dollar amount because he gave up before he could even start to fight. Tom Milechewski had to go to DESE and specifically ask what the penalty was because Wise never asked himself. He just accepted it.
Wise never said…
“Gee, DESE is a completely separate entity from Public Health and the monies we get from them are extremely specific in their nature, therefore any references to changing the terms of those monies on a whim could become a very big issue. Maybe we should probably have our dedicated counsel look into it.”
Wise mentioned to this parent that “if people want change” they needed to advocate to the State Representative and State Senator. I actually texted Brad Jones on November 5th, the day after the School Committee Meeting and explained the entire situation.
- I told Jones that whatever political capital he had amassed in his career needed to be spent on this one issue, because this one issue affected every family in this town.
- Jones responded saying “Justin, I understand what you are explaining, and I have a call with the Head of the Reading School Committee this weekend, I will call you after to discuss.”
- I replied to Brad Jones apologizing for texting him out of nowhere, thanked him for getting back to me and told him that I very much looked forward to speaking with him that weekend.
Brad Jones spoke with Tom Wise that weekend. Brad never called me back. I contacted Tom Wise prior to the November 4th School Committee Meeting, prior to the Superintendent reporting on his communications with DESE. He never got back to me.
It’s obvious that Brad brought the issue I specifically raised to him to Tom. You’d like to think that Tom (as powerless as the School Committee apparently is) would have used that conversation to “advocate internally” to Jones that he should do whatever he can to fight for the rights of every parent in this town on this matter. Crickets.
If all of this depresses you, I don’t blame you one bit.
It’s important to separate the people that serve on the School Committee and the capacity each of those people have made the conscious choice to serve in. There is no denying that none of these people (perhaps with exception of McLaughlin) envisioned just how much power they would wield as a School Committee Member as a result of this pandemic. But the fact is that they do wield considerable power in their positions today.
In this Letter I (perhaps unfairly) am “too critical” of Wise here. It’s not personal, its simply because he is the Leader of a Committee that is the only thing standing between the families and children of this town and the external forces who want to re-define your reality. The only problem is, he is the antithesis of a leader.
So, what are we (the unwashed, potentially vaccinated, potentially unvaccinated, masked) masses to do?
There’s one person who can make all of this go away tomorrow and it is Charlie Baker. So, he should probably get 10,000 phone calls from Reading residents this week, all telling his office that you demand public health and education policy be in the hands of the towns- just like he said on July 28th of this year.
It would also be great to demand to know why, just 2 weeks after he stated his intention to do just that to the media, he pulled a Tom Wise and did nothing while the Massachusetts Board of Education gave sweeping authority to Jeffrey C Reilly- the person whose mere whim, now rules the lives of over a million people in the State of Massachusetts.
Those same 10,000 people should call Brad Jones and tell him if he doesn’t spring to action for our community then he will get primaried.
IF, by some miracle, the overseers who now control our educational system from outside of our town happen to return the power to make our own decisions BACK to us- we need to realize something very important.
The crucial decision of “what to do now” will land squarely back on the laps of a School Committee that has shown this entire community that they are allergic to an apolitical, informed, good decisions.
So, Does That Mean We Give Up?
Try looking into the eyes of a child and telling them you gave up on them. The grim reality of what I have described in my two letters represents the fallen world we have come to know all too well. People in positions to help who don’t, people who refuse to understand that the decisions they make do not exist in a vacuum. This is what things have come to, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Children are too young to understand the world we live in and its up to us as adults to do whatever we can to do our part to make that world less disappointing for them when they get to be our age. Believe me, I don’t want to be writing letters and yelling into the dark about this stuff. But I do it because the alternative is to live in the silent shame of enabling or appeasing the deterioration of things because I am afraid.
Martin Luther King said, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience but where he stands at the times of challenge and controversy.” Had he been alive today I’m sure he would have said the “ultimate measure of a person” instead, but the point is still the same.
Challenging times bring forth the true nature of people. Stress begets truth. When stressed out people show you who they are- believe it.
For now, control what you can. Whatever you think about masks or vaccines, unite in the belief that you should have a right to choose and these entities that orbit your child and family should function to ensure that those choices are safe for everyone.
Tell everyone you know in any town in the state to call Charlie Baker’s office and demand this go away. Every town is being held hostage for the same thing.
While that happens, make your feelings known to the people who currently inhabit the positions on the School Committee to ensure that any success your advocacy generates isn’t in vain.
Beyond that, now is probably a good idea to ask yourself how many more times this Committee as a whole need to show you who they are before you finally decide something needs to be done about it.