Once upon a time (in June 2016 to be more exact) the person in charge of anti-bullying for the Office of the Washington State Superintendent of Instruction (OSPI) decided that one of the presidential candidates (Trump) was using words that scared some children. Apparently this person believes that talking about illegal immigration, deportation and similar things were the equivalent of bullying.
So, this State employee (in charge of anti-bullying) sent an email to all 295 school districts in the State of Washington serving ~1,051,694 students, suggesting that they (the school district) be aware of the impact of “words” and “topics” on some children and consider setting up a “safe room” where children could go to feel safe and be able to talk about their feelings.
This Anti-Bullying Chief called this negative rhetoric “The Trump Effect” (here’s a link to the group that appears to have originated the term and is provided in the email OSPI sent out: https://www.splcenter.org/20160413/trump-effect-impact-presidential-campaign-our-nations-schools). At the end of the email this person shared a link to one of their favorite books that describes the survival of a child in Nazi Germany as an example of a child impacted by political words. (Here’s a link to that book: Gifts from the Enemy)
Here is a copy of the email that was sent out to school districts (update: we have a report that is unconfirmed that this email also went to private school districts): TRUMP EFFECT
Once we heard about this email we began the process of trying to get a copy. We called OSPI and left a voice mail for the person we were referred to. A week later, with no response, we reached out to multiple people at OSPI by phone and email asking for someone to get back to us. It took another week or so to get a response. This led us to file a Public Information Request asking for a copy of the email along with any related correspondence. A little less than a week later we got a CD in the mail which contained some 164 related email’s.
We then reviewed all 164 messages. After reading everything we sat down and wrote a document that critiqued the original email, asked questions and made observations. Here’s a copy of the document we submitted to OSPI: OSPI Trump Effect Memo of June 16 2016 – Questions and Comments – Aug 9 2016
We sent the review document and waited for a response…and waited. When nothing came we followed up and were introduced to the Manager of Communications for OSPI. He apologized for the original email (as the previous person had) and said steps would be taken to deal with the situation. He went on to say that OSPI would not be responding to our questions. So, we pressed the issue and again requested a response. We were then told that they were discussing this with Randy Dorn (Superintendent of Public Schools) but couldn’t tell us when they would respond.
Fast forward a few days and we get a phone call from Gil Mendoza (Deputy Superintendent of Public Schools) who reports to Mr. Dorn. (We had previously spoken with Dan Newell who is also an Asst. Superintendent) We talked on the phone and he said he was taking over since we had met at a Town Hall event previously. In our conversation he said the email should never have gone out and he also apologized. I asked if a retraction and apology communication had ever gone out and he said they were working on it. We asked if OSPI was going to address the issues and questions we raised and he said yes. He said he had read all correspondence and would respond by end of day the following day.
The following day…we get an email from Mr. Mendoza saying our questions and observations were biased and that they would not be responding. If you want to read the entire email exchange we’re packaged them up here: OSPI_TrumP_Effect_Email_Exchange
We have been told that we will get a copy of the email that goes out to the school districts apologizing and retracting the original email. If that happens we will make sure to update this report and add it. As of September 3rd (over 2 months later) nothing has gone out and school is starting shortly – or at least we have not been notified.
As a side note we emailed a copy of our review to Paul Harris, Lynda Wilson and Don Benton (House and Senate representatives for District 17) on August 15th and again on August 25th asking for guidance and suggestions on how to get OSPI to respond. As of the day of this blog story we have not heard back from any of them. On August 28th we sent the this information to Ann Rivers, Liz Pike, Brandon Vick and Ed Orcutt asking for any guidance (we are not in their districts so they have no obligation to respond but since we aren’t getting any input from the 17th we’re trying everything we can think of). Update: As of September 3rd we got email’s back from Ann Rivers and Ed Orcutt acknowledging receipt of the email. Ann said she would look into it and Ed suggested we work with our local representatives (which we’ve been trying to do).
1) A message about political views and politics should have no place in OSPI’s administration of schools
2) OSPI had no process or system in place to prevent such a message from being sent out and there is no indication they will make any changes
3) OSPI hoped that apologies from a couple of the leadership would sweep this under the rug instead of taking the bull by the horns, acknowledging it and explaining what they are doing to prevent such actions
4) It appears that OSPI had no intention of sending a retraction until we made an issue of this topic
5) OSPI refuses to address how this occurred, what the motivations were or how they have dealt with the author of the email (if they have at all)
6) They will not divulge what actions they took against the employee (if any)
Finally, from our point of view, this has nothing to do with which Presidential candidate is right or wrong or Democrat or Republican. We would be equally outraged by this action regardless of the party.
OSPI is in charge of overseeing and directing education in Washington State. They are the leadership and their conduct, behavior and actions should be above reproach. Politics should play no role and personal viewpoints and agenda’s have no place. This situation could be viewed as an example of government controlled education run amok and shows the loss of connection and accountability with/to parents, voters and taxpayers. The refusal to respond to the questions and comments suggests that they think themselves above the fray and not accountable to the public. By ignoring us they are telling us to go away. Are they afraid their responses will dig a deeper hole? Are they embarrassed and don’t want to admit their mistakes in writing? Are they mad that their actions and conduct has been placed them in the limelight in an unfavorable way?
Should you want to share your thoughts with any of the people we’ve corresponded with at OSPI here are their names, positions and email addresses:
Gil Mendoza – Asst Superintendent – email@example.com
Nathan Olson – Manager of Communications – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Newell – Asst Superintendent – email@example.com
In case you want the contact information for the OSPI leadership team you can find it at: http://www.k12.wa.us/AboutUs/Leadership.aspx
Update: On September 1st we emailed Mr. Olson and Mr. Mendoza asking for an update on the status of sending out an email to school districts regarding this topic and here is Mr. Mendoza’s response:
Thank you for your communication Dick. To clarify, the email you refer to will not be sent to all school districts, but to all school districts having been sent the original email. The individual who sent that original email has not been in the agency since our last communication. My understanding is that he will return this coming Tuesday. When he does return, I will meet with him, ask him to construct the communication, which I will review and approve. He will subsequently send it to those he originally communicated with and then to you. Best.
Dr. Gil Mendoza, Deputy Superintendent