Parents who fail to toe the line set by the combination of government schools and union educators deserve a “special place in hell,” according to a Colorado state lawmaker.
The statement was made in a legislative strategy e-mail from Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, to Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, and was uncovered during a recent open records investigation by the FaceTheState, a political blog.
The e-mail was written during an exchange in which Merrifield and Windels were looking for procedures through which they could gut the state’s Charter School Institute, which allows parents to set up schools that compete with public schools and are run by parents.
“There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Charerizers (sic), and Voucherizers! They deserve it,” he wrote.
One of the provisions of Colorado’s Charter School Institute allows charter school applicants to appeal local school district decisions that inappropriately reject their applications to start charter schools.
Commentator Mike Rosen on Denver’s 850 KOA radio station jumped on the revelations.
“(Memo to Satan: Make room, at least, for the parents of about 50,000 charter school students in Colorado; we’re still checking with Merrifield to see if he wants the kids to go to hell, too.)” Rosen wrote.
He described those lawmakers who “are hostile to independent-minded parents, and choice and competition in education” as usually guarded in statements about their opposition – in public.
This e-mail, he said, is “a rare glimpse at their true feelings.”
“Merrifield also referred to two elected school board members in Colorado Springs, with whom he apparently differs on public education policy, as ‘the evil twins.’ So much for kinder and gentler Democrats,” Rosen said.
Merrifield, who the day after the e-mail was revealed ended up resigning his chairmanship of the state’s Education Committee – with the explanation he was taking that step because he is battling cancer, issued a followup statement.
“I don’t want my remarks or my health to sidetrack the important work” of the committee, he said.
He apologized for the strong language and disrespectful tone revealed by the open records investigation.
“I regret if they have caused misunderstanding, hurt or offense,” he announced to fellow lawmakers. “I never meant to disparage the parents who are advocating for their children’s best interest.”
“Now, it’s unfortunate that Merrifield is battling throat cancer and I wish him the best in that fight. But that’s not why he stepped down. Had his e-mail gaffe not been disclosed, he’d still be chairing the Education Committee, and his illness hasn’t caused him to give up his House seat,” Rosen wrote.
Rosen continued that Merrifield’s opposition to charter schools “is as lame as his choice of words. He contends they ‘strip scarce resources’ from public schools. Nonsense. This is bumper-sticker educratic propaganda.”
Windels, who received the e-mail, also came under scrutiny because of it, and criticism after it was discovered she said a legislative plan would improve communication between the Colorado Charter School Institute and districts.
She had revealed in the e-mail exchange that she planned to overhaul the bill at the last minute in the legislative process to effect a “full repeal” of the Institute, in hopes of catching charter school supporters off guard.
Kim Miller, board president of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, which is ranked as Colorado’s top-performing high school (and is a charter school), says both lawmakers should step down.
“They’re not looking out for what’s best for Colorado students,” she said.
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