Illinois State Board of Education doesn’t care what you think

| May 29, 2015 | Comments (0)

FullSizeRender-2The recent PARCC testing cycles elicited strong opinions from students, parents, teachers and others following the controversy, which played out in print, on the airwaves and via social media. An interesting thing happened on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) social media outlets. As the testing controversy grew, ISBE started blocking anti-PARCC comments. At first they just eliminated those comments and blocked people from commenting on tweets. Later they blocked all comments.

How did we get to a place where a taxpayer funded agency was deliberately preventing people from expressing their free speech rights? During both recent PARCC testing cycles, ISBE posted daily pro-PARCC messages. As you’d expect from a test so controversial, many of the remarks in the comments section were negative. I was among those posting negative comments. I noticed quickly that my remarks were deleted shortly after being posted. Within days, I was blocked from commenting at all. I wondered who else had this problem, so I asked the question on the Facebook group Opt Out of State Standardized Testing – Illinois.

Within minutes people started posting with their personal experiences. Some of the comments were really funny. Others were eye-opening. Kylie Spahn said, “I have a whole group of parents (on her personal Facebook page) that turned it into ‘whose post lasted the longest.’ They also turned to Twitter and were blocked.” Nicole Kamberos Keough noted, “They must keep changing their minds on how much they want people to show the world who they really are! Now no comments.” She used the hashtag #thevoiceofthepeopleisstrong

Annette Jaynes outlined her experience in a series of posts. She started with “My comments were deleted.” She went on to document this by showing the exact post with a “before and after” screen shot. The image on this post is Annette’s screen shot of the “after” when her comment was hidden. I heard additional stories on the Park the PARCC Facebook page.

After gathering enough antidotal evidence to determine that ISBE was probably deliberately deleting anti-PARCC comments, I sent an email to ISBE asking for clarification – and identifying myself as writing this post for The Chicago Moms. This is the response I received: There are limits in place for the Illinois State Board of Education’s Facebook site, including those on profanity and spamming. Due to an increase in such incidents, agency staff made a decision to limit the view of all comments, whether positive or negative, during the initial PARCC administration. All comments always remain viewable by individual users’ Facebook friends, and users can always share ISBE posts on their personal Facebook pages along with their comments. Thank you Matt Vanover

There are some reasons to limit free speech, according to the U.S. Court website including “to incite actions that would harm others” or “to permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration.” I know that my comments never contained any profanity. I wrote different things for my comments, although I did include the same anti-PARCC link with a few comments. None of these things seems to fall in line with the limits of free speech noted on the U.S. Courts website.

I submitted a Freedom of Information Act so I could review the ISBE social media policy. Here’s what I received in response from Megan Griffin:

Request 1: “Any and all official documents and/or internal emails regarding ISBE’s social media policy.”

Response 1: The attached document (15-316-schmidt-doc.pdf) has been provided in response to this portion of your request.

Request 2: “Any and all emails mentioning blocking people on Twitter and/or Facebook, as well as any other emails mentioning ISBE social media policy such as when to block people on Twitter and/or Facebook and why from January 1, 2015 until April 14, 2015.”

Response 2: Our agency has no documents to provide in response to this portion of your request.

The attachment (15-316-schmidt-doc.pdf) was eye-opening for its simplicity. ISBE simply sent a screen shot of its Facebook settings. The blocked words include crap, suck, sucks, blows, retarded, WTF, screw, screwed and screws. Everything else was probably about the same as what you have on your Facebook settings.

If this FIOA response is accurate, then ISBE has no formal social media policy. At a minimum, it means that nothing was put into writing regarding who and what to block on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently these decisions were made through a completely verbal process. All decisions to block people on Twitter and hide anti-PARCC comments seem to have been made in some random, unofficial way.

How does this happen in our hyper-connected society? Did ISBE really believe that no one would consider their actions to be limiting our First Amendment rights? I have to say that my first thought was to wonder why a taxpayer funded agency was limiting free speech for so many people. I realize that no one wants to hear criticism when they are trying to put a good spin on a bad situation, but was limiting our free speech rights the best way to avoid the criticism?

Is there ever a situation where a government limits citizens’ free speech and comes out looking like the good guy? The answer, of course, is no. What really happened is people who have long felt that ISBE is more concerned with making corporate friends than educating Illinois’ children have had their beliefs solidified. Even with a new leader, ISBE staff has shown over and over again that they are more interested in forcing their beliefs on the children of our state than engaging in meaningful conversation. If ISBE is so certain that the agency’s position is correct, they should take a stand that works to change minds, not deprive citizens of their First Amendment rights. If the argument is strong enough, ISBE will prevail. If it’s not, then it’s time for ISBE to look at the real reasons the PARCC test is so important to the agency.


Shari writes about life with tween twin daughters at Two Times the Fun.

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About Shari: Shari is a mom, wife, marketing communications professional, gardener, Chicago Blackhawks fan, college sports fan, traveler, quilter, community volunteer, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, Siberian Husky owner, Girl Scout troop leader and book lover. You can find Shari blogging about life with twins at Two Times the Fun and tweeting @slcs48n1. View author profile.

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