Thursday, June 7, 2012

Legal or not, it's bullying by adults

In Oklahoma, high school students must pass four of seven End of Instruction (EOIs) exams in order to graduate, according to the legislation, Achieving Classroom Excellence, A.C.E. Last week, the Oklahoma School Board heard appeals from several high school seniors who were denied their diplomas because of their test scores. This is not the time to discuss high-stakes testing and the philosophy of lives being shattered because of a test. This blog is a letter sent to the members of the School Board, after personal information about the students who were denied their appeals was published online. Students or their parents had to sign a waiver foregoing their rights to privacy under the federal law, Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act  (FERPA). 

Dear School Board Member:

I am writing to express outrage and horror and to enlist your assistance in reaching out to wronged students. I read recently about the recent Board meeting where you met in executive session to discuss the appeals of several students who have been unable to meet the ACE requirements of passing 4 of the 7 EOIs. I appreciate your protecting the privacy of students by keeping your discussions behind closed doors.

 I was surprised to learn that all the students whose appeals were denied by the Board had their names, their GPAs, and their disabilities published on the SDE website. I know Mr. Gardenhire is telling us it’s perfectly legal, since the students (or their parents, because these high school seniors must be underage) were forced to sign a waiver in order to have their appeal heard. I read the waiver as presented in the Tulsa World, and I saw nothing that said, ‘if you lose, we will publicly humiliate you on our website.’ I DO see ‘weasel words’ that the SDE must be using to justify this act.

I hope you share my deep concern over this act. We are talking about young people, 17 or 18 years old. Young people just starting their lives as adults. Old enough to vote and join the military, yes, but still young. This act may have repercussions for their rest of their lives. And for what? What could possibly be gained by doing this? Is it not-so-subtle intimidation and bullying? Is it a warning to other students who may have to appeal for graduation? Is it an ugly object lesson from the SDE?

I don’t know enough about the law to know if this is even legal. If it is, it is not right. It is not in the best interest of anyone to do this. It is mean-spirited.  I have been told that FERPA, as a federal law takes precedent over a state law, such as the one requiring the waiver to be signed. We could be facing costly litigation, and there’s a part of my heart that hopes these wronged families do choose to sue the SDE.

As a teacher myself, I tell my intern teachers that students learn from us all the time. They may not be learning just the lesson I’ve prepared. They will be learning how adults treat youngsters, they’ll be learning about fairness and justice. They’ll learn how society works. They’ll learn about respect and how relationships work.

I want you to ask yourself and ask Dr. Barresi one simple question: “What’s the lesson our students across the state have learned from what has happened?” Then ask yourself if you want to be affiliated to that answer.

This is an action that can’t be undone. You can’t ‘unpublish’ these names. Taking down the names simply stops future prying eyes from reading about these students. All you can do is demand Dr. Barresi and Mr. Gardenhire take down that page. Apologize to those students and their parents. Work with these young people as they try to earn their high school diploma. 

Support their efforts to move on after this public humiliation.

Claudia Swisher
7550 Nutmeg Drive
Norman, OK
National Board Certified Teacher
Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching


  1. As much as we have to be careful of student privacy, I am shocked that these students' records would be displayed in public.

  2. My understanding is that by signing the FERPA waiver, the students granted relevant SDE officials access to their academic records. This does not, however, extend to posting records on the Internet or sharing them with media.

  3. JUST saw an article that says the SDE will 'redact' the you can undo the damage. Response was swift and clear.

  4. Shocking ! What is the implicit lesson here ?