Saturday, May 5, 2012

Indiana: Parent Opts Out and Indiana DOE Overreacts

Recently, Grumpy Educators reported on a New York parent who opted her student out of student testing. The response from the school was disheartening. Now, a parent in Indiana reports a similar experience in asserting her parental rights to opt out her son from standardized testing. In both cases, the parents were mistreated, harassed, and in New York, threatened, their students had an IEP, and the state-level officials demanded compliance to non-existing regulations. Are these appropriate responses by State-level education department staffers? Schools are ordered to comply and school officials then order the parents and students to comply without any enforceable legal requirement. The schools must give the tests, but the students are not compelled to take them and parental rights have not been overridden. When the state is asked for relevant regulations, the compliance begins to fall apart.

Read the Indiana parent's story from beginning to end.

Part 1: The Parent Requests No Testing

"I went to school with [child's name] today, Thursday, May 5th, to make sure the school did not make [child's name] take the ISTEP (he was at home on Tuesday and Wednesday this week). I was pulled out by an administrator about thirty minutes into the day with [child's name] and asked to speak with him. He brought me to his office and explained how they have to follow what the DOE requires. If a child comes to school during ISTEP they must take the exams, and today they are doing makeup exams for ISTEP. Therefore if I don’t allow him to take the ISTEP he will have to stay home until the testing window is closed (meaning the next 4 days of school he would have to stay home until May 9th). The administrator then directed me to talk with Dr. Walker at the DOE about my desire to opt [child's name] out of ISTEP and to hear what they mandate. She indicated I had no legal right to opt him out and that the state has the right to make a child take the test even if the parent/s object. She indicated if I decided to stay at school with my son that the school would have to call the legal authorizes to have us removed from school. I summarized for her the three options I thought I had:
1. Stay at school with my son and refuse the test,
2. Stay at home with my son,
3. Allow my son to take the test.

Obviously there are consequences with all three situations. The first option threatens me with physical removal from the school and undue stress on my son. The second option denies my son a right to an education. The third option denies my right as a mom to say no to the excessive testing that is going on in our schools, especially in third grade.

 I told my son’s administrator that I feel like my son and I are being run out of this school because of ISTEP. He nodded his head and agreed that is what the DOE is requiring. He didn’t agree with the mandate from the DOE but he also didn’t want to put his school at jeopardy of sanctions. He indicated that he believes there are other laws such as compulsory education laws that contradict what the DOE is saying but at this point he has to follow the DOE directions. He knew that there are 28 kids opting out at the Indianapolis Project School and the school principal has allowed this. However, he believes that situation will put that school at risk. 

We were asked to take the test at 10:30 or leave the school. I decided to leave but tried to get [child's name] back in school later in the day as he really wanted to go to his Passions class at 2:30. I was told by phone not to come back as the DOE has been notified of [child's name] departure from school and the staff has been notified that [child's name] should not be allowed back at school today. When I asked about [child's name] going to school tomorrow he said something to the affect, “Tensions are high. If you come to school it will probably be a very ugly situation”. 

I feel so upset about many of the elements of this situation. I honestly thought the school would leave an opt out child/parent alone if they came to school to ensure their son’s right to an education and denied the test for their child. I am shocked that the school is responding in this manner and that the Indiana DOE can assert their power over a school in this way."

Part 2: Indiana DOE finds another option.

"I wish to update you all on my situation.
I received an email this morning from the school principal indicating that I can bring [child's name] to school and they wanted to talk to me in person about a way for [child's name] to stay at school and not take ISTEP.
When I showed up both principals were present and they said that they regretted how the DOE spoke to me yesterday on the phone regarding my demand to opt out [child's name] from school. They said they asked the DOE to put in writing where the law states that [child's name] cannot be at school if he doesn’t take the ISTEP. In addition, they explained to the DOE that [child's name] is supposed to get special accommodations to take the test due to his IEP. The school believes this new knowledge caused the DOE to provide another option to the school.
They told me [child's name] could go to school again and not take the ISTEP but he would have to be given the opportunity to take the test under normal accommodations (in a separate room). All he has to do is say no to the test and they would let him go back to class and they would have to go through this procedure through the middle of next week. I agreed to talk to [child's name] about this option and make sure he understands the plan. After yesterday my son really understands what is going on and he is ready to say no to the test. In addition, it was a big deal to my son to be at school today and he was more than happy to say no to the test. I was given assurances that it would be done in a gentle matter.
As I walked out of the school building today, I felt emotion and some degree of victory. I feel that the school and the DOE had to show me as a parent where it says in the state law that [child's name] could not be at school. They obviously could not provide that information and realized they needed to back up from what they said to me yesterday.
I believe the school was trying to find a solution and felt that what they provided me was the best solution for now. I am grateful that they did follow up with the DOE from the unfortunate situation yesterday and asked the DOE to back up their statements regarding [child's name] right to attend school.
I would like to continue to provide pressure on the DOE to turn back their policies around threatening parents and threatening to force kids to take a test. However, I need time to think about how to use this situation to benefit the larger cause. The issues that need to be in the spotlight are:
1. The parents right to guide the well being of their child and how that supersedes the states right to force testing

2. Putting the child in a position to have to be the one to say no to the test.
Although I agreed to this and felt confident my son could handle this option, I also realize that young kids should not be put in this position. I don’t want this to be the fall back policy of the opt out movement.

3. The DOE has been caught overstepping their power in a number of ways recently. IREAD is one example. I believe we need to apply pressure on our legislators to make sure we put them back in their place.

4. More organizing at the local level around these issues is critical – I was alone in this situation. I hope to make more progress once I have time to recover from the intensity and stress of this situation

I hope that this story is helpful to other parents who run into this situation in the future. Let’s keep the pressure on the DOE."


  1. Good for you! As a public school teacher in Indiana, and as the parent of one special needs and one high achieving student, I applaud your courage and conviction. I was too afraid for my job and for my children's futures to take such a noble stand.

  2. Good for you! As a public school teacher in Indiana, and as the parent of one special needs and one high achieving student, I applaud your courage and conviction. I was too afraid for my job and for my children's futures to take such a noble stand.

  3. Last year my special needs son was kicked out of a charter school for my refusal to allow him to take our state test. I believed the test was not in the best interest of his mental, physical and educational well being. Please add your voice and your letter to the multi family complaint below. I need Indiana parent letters. Many families from all over the US have joined the complaint. Please write and help regain our voices in the education of our children.
    ******ACLU Multi Family Complaint******
    Please send your letter of parental rights violations regarding high stakes standardized testing to:
    Nina Bishop
    3065 Windward Way
    Colorado Springs, CO 80917
    719-233-1508 Mountain Standard Time
    Please send copies of threatening school/district mail, denials to school activities, grade advancement or diploma, your contact information and your request to join the complaint. Please focus your letter on the Supreme Court rulings and 14th Amendment.(see below)

    Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education, so why not in our state statutes? The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten "liberties" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399)