by Karen R. Effrem, MD
According to a local report, the publisher of a controversial Common Core math curriculum used in the Wake County, N.C., public school district (WCPSS) is suing an individual parent for “libel and slander” as well as “tortuous interference” for vocally criticizing the district’s use of the curriculum he says has harmed the education of his son and many other students in the district. The Utah-based publisher, Mathematics Vision Project (MVP), claims that parent Blain Dillard acted with “reckless disregard” that has harmed the company, while Dillard claims he is “innocent of all allegations and can defend each and every point made in the summons.”
According to the report:
MVP attorney Joseph Shapiro told WRAL News the company “believes in and supports public discourse, especially relating to the education of our children. Society has, however, placed limits on public discourse. One of those limits is a restriction against false statements. MVP’s legal action against Mr. Dillard is an effort to preserve these boundaries and maintain the civility, dignity, and productiveness of public discourse.”
The lawsuit claims Dillard “commenced a crusade against MVP” and “acted with reckless disregard” as he knowingly made false and defamatory statements with the intent to harm MVP’s reputation. The company wants a jury trial and is seeking damages for Dillard’s “defamatory statements” and “intentional interference” with the company’s business.
Dillard has spoken at numerous Wake County Board of Education meetings and with the news media about his dislike of MVP, which he says caused his 10th grade son to go from being an A and B math student to failing the subject in a short time period.
In addition to his public comments, Dillard created a website, blog and Facebook group dedicated to sharing his criticisms of the program and the Wake County Public School System’s use of it. He has also filed numerous public records requests to get information and has emailed math teachers in both Wake County and Utah to get their thoughts on the program.
In an email Tuesday, Dillard said MVP’s lawsuit “is an attempt at intimidation and bullying to silence my and other parents’ free speech advocating for our children’s education.” Dillard’s supporters have created a GoFundMe [https://www.gofundme.com/f/wake-county-math-parent-legal-defense-fund] page to raise money for his defense against MVP.
The curriculum teaches by the “discovery method” instead of proven teacher-led direct instruction. Group projects are frequently employed.
According to the GoFundMe page, Dillard explains that he created a website, blog, and a Facebook group that now has over 1,400 members analyzing data about the effectiveness or lack thereof of the MVP program. Over 400 students in the Wake County district walked out of class in protest over the curriculum. Sixteen parents, including Dillard, filed a formal complaint with the WCPSS that was dismissed because a district-led review panel praised the curriculum. However, the board voted unanimously to review the findings of that panel contained in an appeal of the complaint of one parent, which they did in closed-door session that will be discussed publicly and voted on by the board on this week.
The reaction to the lawsuit by parent activists and experts across the nation has been swift and condemning of both MVP and WCPSS. Tom Loveless, formerly head of the Brown Center at the left-of-center Brookings Institution, said in a tweet:
This is a first. In all my years of studying parent protests over curriculum, I have never heard of a publisher taking legal action against parents. MVP will not emerge from this looking good. Neither will the Wake County admin and school board.— Tom Loveless (@tomloveless99) August 2, 2019
JR Wilson at the Underground Parent said:
Is the Parent Voice being heard in Wake County? Will the parents be successful in getting the kind of education they want for this children?
Good for those parents in Wake County and in other places across the country that are persistent in having their voice heard with regard to the education and upbringing of their children.
Anne Gassel at the Missouri Education Watchdog properly noted that this lawsuit represents the possibility of a coming “World War” between parents and the education industrial complex over what happens to their children:
The message to parents in MVP’s lawsuit is, “You have no say in what we are going to do to your children. Speak up and we will destroy you.”
When an education business goes after an individual parent for claims about the effects of its product on children, claims which can easily be proved true, in an effort to save its contract with the school district, we may be witnessing the newest assassination attempt that could spark an all-out war in public schools over who has the ultimate say about what happens inside the buildings and to the children.
The time is likely here when parents will not be able to stay uninvolved. This case and the parents’ rights case discussed last week are just two of the latest examples. If you have not already, gird for battle to protect the hearts and minds of your children.
Photo credit: Bryon Lippincott via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0