North Bellmore mother fights new opt-out penalties


Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother of two, plans to spend her summer mobilizing parents against new state penalties for schools where students opt out of standardized tests.

Deutermann, who helped start the national opt-out movement with her group, Long Island Opt Out, last week called the new regulations “absolute insanity.”

The Board of Regents on Monday gave preliminary approval to the new rules, which could force schools to use federal funds to improve participation in the tests — which nearly three-quarters of Bellmore-Merrick students routinely boycott — and target districts with high opt-out rates for state interventions.

The rules will be back before the Regents in September for final approval.

According to Deutermann, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015, states that districts must have 95 percent of students participate in standardized tests. However, the law leaves it up to each state to decide how to increase test participation.

With the proposed new rules, the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, is working against the intent of ESSA, while telling parents that the penalties are needed to comply with federal law, Deutermann said.

“What she’s trying to tell the Regents who aren’t on board is that this is the only way we can comply with ESSA, which is absolutely false,” Deutermann said. “I don’t know whether it’s a white lie or she’s just exaggerating, but she’s trying to penalize opt-outs even more than NCLB . . . They’re kind of whupping the original intent of the rule.”

During Monday’s meeting, a number of Regents expressed concerns about the rules, including Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island. Tilles took particular issue with how complicated many of the new regulations were.

“The incomprehensibility of this document, to even those of us supposedly who are the policymakers, who have been dealing with this — in my case for 13 years,” Tilles said. “This is not simple. This is not comprehensible . . . It’s going to require a law-school semester for parents to understand what this is about, and I am very concerned.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said that the regulations would cause mixed messaging, and put “everybody in the community . . . at odds.”

“On the one hand, ESSA gives that credible signal to parents that it’s OK, that you have parental choice,” Rosa said. “At the same time, they signal the second part, that says, ‘but’ . . . the state has to act like the heavy, the cop, the person who’s going to create the constructs for sanctions.”

“So, it’s a very convoluted message that says, ‘Parents, you have a choice, but schools, you don’t have a choice,’” Rosa said.

But Elia defended the new rules, insisting that the development process was transparent, and that the Education Department has received “some rave reviews.”

“I just want you to remember the work that’s been done, and not only listen to criticism now,” Elia said. “We’ve had thousands of opportunities for input on this, and we have listened virtually every time.”

Regents voted to advance the new ESSA regulations by a vote of 14, with three abstentions, according to published reports.

Education Trust-New York, a Manhattan advocacy group described as “relentless advocates of educational justice for students across New York state,” according to its website, wrote a letter to Elia in support of the new regulations. Ian Rosenblum, the group’s executive director, called the Education Department’s process “inclusive” and “transparent.”

“ESSA enables New York to define what it means to be a successful school, set clear expectations that schools must raise achievement for all of their students — not just some,” Rosenblum said.

Deutermann, however, said that she would be lobbying area education leaders to ensure that during the public comment period in July and August, Regents are pressured to nix the changes when the final vote comes in September.

“From what we hear, there’s a lot of Regents who are not happy with this, and who are prepared to vote ‘no’ if Elia does not change these regulations,” Deutermann said. “We’re going to urge superintendents to send in comments, Board of Education trustees, PTA groups . . . we want school leaders to protect us, not respond to threats and change the way we do things with our kids here.”