Volinsky in Concord Monitor: Edelblut’s extreme views would harm state’s public school children

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Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy submitted this piece to the Concord Monitor regarding Frank Edelblut’s confirmation as Education Commissioner:

New Hampshire’s Executive Council is a unique institution specifically designed as a check on the power of the governor. As part of that check, the job of an executive councilor includes a responsibility to dissent. I recently challenged the nomination of Frank Edelblut to be our next education commissioner consistent with my responsibilities as an executive councilor. Careful dissent must be based on judgment and principle and not on politics. It must be well-reasoned. In my view, the duty to dissent must be exercised in public and must be transparent.

Here is why I believe that Edelblut is not qualified to lead our state Department of Education.

Most importantly, unlike every other commissioner in recent history, Edelblut does not have any academic preparation for the job. He has never served as a classroom teacher, principal, or superintendent as did all prior commissioners. Edelblut chose to home school his seven children. This is his prerogative, but in so doing, he also chose to completely insulate himself from every aspect of public school life. He did not serve on a school board or a PTA. In fact, even though Edelblut recently ran for governor, he has not toured a single New Hampshire public school. Edelblut’s lack of public school exposure makes him an extreme candidate far outside the mainstream.

Additionally, Edelblut testified that he will not commit to completing his full term of office if he is approved. His refusal to commit to serving a full four-year term suggests to me that political advantage may be more important to Edelblut than the needs of our school children.

Edelblut and I met at my offices a few days before his confirmation hearing. I asked him about board memberships in an effort to learn about possible conflicts and Edelblut mentioned that he was on the fundraising board for Patrick Henry College. He told me this in a way that appeared to be designed to steer me away from asking about the college. He referred to it as “just a small liberal arts school in Washington, D.C.” I reviewed the college’s website after our meeting and learned that its mission is to imbue students with a particular biblical worldview that would be used by the students when they seek public office. The college considers people who work with the school to be its “agents” and commits those agents to a Statement of Faith that is tied to the college’s biblical worldview. The biblical worldview, which may be found at phc.edu/statement-of-biblical-worldview, has provisions that will likely interfere with the ordinary responsibilities of an education commissioner. These provisions include claims that women, having been created from Adam’s rib, are second to men in all things, that homosexuality is a sin, and that creationism, not evolution, unequivocally explains the world’s origin.

Edelblut is an accomplished businessman and CPA. He has researched and understands the regulatory environment in which public schools operate. As such, I found his testimony at his confirmation hearing to be disingenuous. Edelblut testified that he considered his personal views on creationism to be irrelevant because he would have no control over the decisions made by local school districts. Many of his supporters have been quite vocal about this point. Whether or not evolution is taught as the scientific explanation for the world’s origin, however, is not a local option. Edelblut’s claim that as education commissioner he would have no authority over local school districts just is not accurate.

The state is responsible for what is taught in local schools. The concept of state accountability was described in the Claremont cases and ultimately written into statute. The rules implementing the state’s science standards require high school biology courses to teach “organic evolution and patterns and products of evolution.” The NextGen Science Standards adopted by the state board last November also require the teaching of evolution. As the new education commissioner, Edelblut will be responsible for enforcing adherence to the minimum standards for school approval; standards that expressly require the teaching of evolution. This subject is not open to debate and is not irrelevant. Under our 21st-century science standards, students are required to study evolution. Students in our public schools should not be presented with the biblical story of creation as an alternative theory and Mr. Edelblut’s equivocation on this point was not only misleading, but disturbing.

As the state’s education commissioner, Edelblut will also be responsible for overseeing programs that may impact students who have gender identities at odds with Edelblut’s personal beliefs. These include HIV/AIDS and suicide prevention programs and the work of our school counselors. The statutory requirements to offer these programs and to provide school counselors are also not subject to a local option; the Department of Education, led by the commissioner, has the responsibility to implement and oversee these statutory requirements. Edelblut will be responsible for the state’s school counselors and these counselors must not encourage conversion therapy, which purports to shame young gay and lesbian students straight. Edelblut was not forthcoming at his confirmation hearing when he intentionally soft-pedaled his position on this controversial practice. Edelblut previously characterized conversion therapy as being no more anxiety producing than smoking cessation therapies. This opinion is far outside of the mainstream. To be clear, conversion therapy has been condemned by many professionals and organizations including the American Associations of Psychiatrists, School Psychologists, School Counselors, Pediatricians, Secondary School Principals and School Administrators. Conversion therapy is illegal in Vermont, Illinois, California, Oregon, New Jersey and in Washington, D.C.

Edelblut testified repeatedly that he would merely be the implementer-in-chief of policies set by the Legislature and the state school board. This claim also is not accurate. It is of concern that the nominee misstated the powers and obligations he will assume as education commissioner. By statute, the education commissioner sets the goals for our state system of education and the commissioner is the impetus behind seeing these goals implemented.

Setting this aside, the nominee and the governor have been disquietingly silent on the fact that the governor will soon appoint the majority of the members of the state school board and has refused to commit to re-appointing the state board chairman, Tom Raffio, whose term recently expired. The governor ordinarily consults the education commissioner when making appointments to the state board, yet Edelblut and the governor have not disclosed what they have discussed about these critically important appointments.

My opposition to Edelblut’s appointment is factual and principled. It is based on what he has said and what he has done. Edelblut is unqualified by training and experience, as required by statute, and I believe his extreme views will harm our public school children and will set back our efforts to attract young families and businesses that require highly educated and skilled workers to our state.

Read the full article here.