State Board of Ed says ‘99.9 percent’ of public commentary on Edelblut negative

  • Frank Edelblut speaks during a public hearing on his nomination to lead the state’s education department, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Frank Edelblut (left) speaks to people with signs opposing his nomination as commissioner of the Department of Education before a Jan. 31 hearing at the State House in Concord. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 2/15/2017 5:59:54 PM

Just hours before Frank Edelblut was officially confirmed as education commissioner, the State Board of Education told Gov. Chris Sununu they had reservations about his nominee to lead New Hampshire’s public schools.

In a letter sent to the Republican governor Tuesday afternoon, the board attached 57 pages of public commentary on Edelblut’s appointment to head the Department of Education. Nearly all of the comments were in opposition.

“After discussion with the public today and among board members, we have to say, Governor, that we share the public’s concerns about Mr. Edelblut’s qualifications for the role of New Hampshire Education Commissioner,” the board members wrote in a letter signed by chairman Tom Raffio.

In an interview Wednesday, Raffio said the board was simply noting a near-unanimous public outcry they had received about his appointment.

“It’s not like we don’t deal with controversial issues,” Raffio said. But Edelblut’s nomination was “off the charts” in terms of the volume of public input, “99.9 percent” of which appeared opposed to the idea, he said.

Conservatives have cheered Edelblut’s appointment, arguing the businessman who home-schooled all seven his children will bring fresh ideas to the department.

But detractors argue Edelblut isn’t qualified for the job because he has no professional background in education and holds beliefs deeply out of step with modern public schooling.

Edelblut was confirmed Wednesday in a 3-2 vote by the Republican-controlled Council.

Here’s a sampling of the comments included in the board’s letter:

– “Managing and overseeing the state’s educational system is not something that can or should be learned ‘on the job.’ Businesses regularly cite an educated workforce as a key factor in deciding where to locate their headquarters; placing our educational system under the direction of a person with no experience will only harm New Hampshire’s economy,” Dr. Katherine Porter, Concord.

– “I work for a local biotech company. We are always looking for individuals educated in STEM subjects and we have trouble filling positions. Teaching creationism and underfunding the public school system through school choice programs will not help produce an educated, skilled work force,” Sarah McDonald, West Lebanon.

– “I am concerned about positions that Mr. Edelblut has taken that are outside the mainstream. He voted against banning gay conversion therapy, and seems to be against providing special needs students with the services they need, as evidenced by his vote against a bill that required the Department of Education to assign a reading specialist to support schools with dyslexia,” Marcey Rawitscher, an Amherst parent and educator.

– “Mr. Edelblut’s positions are far outside the mainstream, and it would be unconscionable to elevate to Commissioner of Education a proponent of these views,” Janson Wu, the executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, on Edelblut’s testimony when he was a state representative against a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors and his support of the Parental Rights Amendment.

– “Personally and professionally, I have witnessed the despair of children and teenagers when their sexuality is denounced, a despair which all too often leads to self-harm, a life in the shadows, or even death,” Sarah M. B. Henry, a Concord pediatrician, also regarding conversion therapy.

After the confirmation vote Wednesday, Sununu defended appointing Edelblut to the position despite the state board’s qualms.

“I think it was a great discussion,” Sununu said, referring to his visit to the board’s meeting on Tuesday. “You know, they have concerns, but none of these concerns bear the weight of, frankly, taking these to a level where we should put ourselves behind the eight-ball for political reasons, for reasons, again, that I think would be to the detriment of the Department of Education.”

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