My turn: Support strong public schools

For the Monitor
Published: 11/26/2021 3:00:29 PM
Modified: 11/26/2021 3:00:12 PM

My name is Katie Kinnane and I’m a special education mom with children in Hollis. What does that mean? It means that I’m a member of a community team, parents and the school district, that work together to ensure that my children are receiving the services they need to succeed in life. It takes a lot of work, regular meetings and constant communication, but the results are far more rewarding than the time. 

The pandemic brought new challenges, but I’ve overcome my fair share of roadblocks before. However, this time, challenges came from a source far bigger than our little town. There is a deliberate sabotage of our public education system happening right now under the leadership of State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut. In his pursuit to destroy public education, he has left the most vulnerable students, not just my own, behind in his path to promote an extremist ideology. 

In the wake of the state’s reopening in the spring of this year, I entered due process for the first time. Due process is a way for parents and districts who don’t agree on services to avoid going to court and to reach an agreement that works for both parties.

At the start of the year, my family, like many others facing the uncertainty of the pandemic, chose remote learning. Yet, when it became clear remote learning just wasn’t working for my students, they were wait-listed as they sought to return to the building. They weren’t getting the support they needed and even when schools were required to allow students in-building two days a week, my family heard no updates from the district. With no other option for my children, I filed my first discrimination complaint.

As an activist and a mother, I was heartbroken. I have fought for the Hollis School District ever since I was a student in it. Our community’s response to my family’s struggle was disheartening. While I knew other families faced similar challenges, I’ve felt very alone. Whenever I voiced my concerns, I was often dismissed as someone who doesn’t support public schools or our community. Instead of offers of help or support, our struggles were brushed off with a single comment: “Well, we didn't have that problem.”

After waiting almost a year since filing my complaint, I finally had my first hearing with the State Board of Education. It was two hours away in a little North County Charter School. When I arrived, I was somewhat taken aback by the location. The school, a former hospital, shared space with numerous other businesses. The building appeared little changed from its original purpose as I walked through the emergency room doors and sterile maze of hallways, lacking any signs of children or school pride.

I realized I walked into Edelblut’s dismal vision of education and knew that I had no chance of being truly heard that day. My fears were confirmed when my case was dismissed. The district policies to follow state instruction are clear and Frank Edelblut’s stance on public education that it is a choice and not a right is equally so. 

It has been well over a month since the dismissal.  I have yet to be provided with the written decision, so I can continue on with my appeal.  I promised Edelblut and the state board that day,  I will not stand idly by while they destroy our school. I continue to raise awareness through social media and public records. 

My primary focus is remote learning statutes and ensuring students don’t get abandoned by the state in emergencies. Ultimately, I believe Edelblut has caused intentional confusion throughout his tenure as commissioner by defunding public education and absolving the state of liabilities to the people. The state minimum standards are not open to interpretation based on Edelblut’s ideology.  Districts should be free to protect students in emergency situations without extensive overreach by the state.

I believe it’s extremely important for Granite Staters to keep working together to build strong public schools that work for all of our students. The point of a community is not to say, “Well, we didn’t have that problem.” It is instead to ask, “What can we do together to fix it?” 

Our public schools are only as strong as our community and we owe it to students, teachers and future generations to fight for them to be the true places of opportunity they can and should be. Every little bit of work makes a difference. When our public schools are under attack from within by opponents of appropriate education, we all need to stand up as a community to our values and our future.

 

(Katie Kinnane of Hollis is an artist and activist.)




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