While the state of New York is scrambling to respond to the outraged parents who opted out of state tests last year, New York City is threatening teachers who dare to speak about opting out.


Last spring, 20% of the state’s eligible students opted out (about a quarter million students), but the numbers were much lower in New York City. Some attribute this to the fear of losing funding. Whatever the reason, less than 2% of students in New York City refused the tests.


The city wants to keep the numbers low.


According to the New York Times:


At a forum in December, Anita Skop, the superintendent of District 15 in Brooklyn, which had the highest rate of test refusals in the city last year, said that for an educator to encourage opting out was a political act and that public employees were barred from using their positions to make political statements.
On March 7, the teachers at Public School 234 in TriBeCa, where only two students opted out last year, emailed the school’s parents a broadside against the tests. The email said the exams hurt “every single class of students across the school” because of the resources they consumed.


But 10 days later, when dozens of parents showed up for a PTA meeting where they expected to hear more about the tests, the teachers were nowhere to be seen. The school’s principal explained that “it didn’t feel safe” for them to speak, adding that their union had informed them that their email could be considered insubordination. The principal, Lisa Ripperger, introduced an official from the Education Department who was there to “help oversee our meeting.”


Several principals said they had been told by either the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, or their superintendents that they and their teachers should not encourage opting out. There were no specific consequences mentioned, but the warnings were enough to deter some educators.


Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said that teachers were free to express themselves on matters of public concern as private citizens, but not as representatives of the department, and that if they crossed that line they could be disciplined. Asked what the disciplinary measures might be, Ms. Kaye said they were determined case by case.


“I don’t think that the teachers’ putting themselves in the middle of it is a good idea,” Ms. Fariña said in an interview.