One would guess that the person entrusted with overseeing Montana’s public schools would oppose a bill that would allow parents to not educate their children at all and permit those parents to compel them to work in the fields all day, but that’s just not the case when Elsie Arntzen is the head of OPI.
It’s increasingly clear that not only is Arntzen not capable of handling the duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, but that she is actively hostile to the public schools she is supposed to lead. Just a few weeks after appearing at a rally designed to support siphoning public dollars from our schools and sending them to private discrimination factories, she refused to take a stand against a crackpot bill that would end compulsory education in Montana.
HB 303, presented by Jefferson City Representative Greg DeVries, is a masterwork of conservative anti-intellectualism and anti-government conspiracy thinking. Concerned that public education and the very lax oversight the state has over home-schooled children, DeVries compared compulsory education requirements to “prisons and internment camps.” After generously allowing that he’s “perfectly content letting the state schools exist,” DeVries argued that Montana was acting like “North Korea…with regard to school attendance.”
DeVries went on to suggest that compulsory education is responsible for the collapse of American society, defended a “parent’s prerogative” to compel children to work the farm rather than receive an education, and argued that access to education is not a fundamental right. After that, his remarks promoting the bill collapsed into a word salad of claims about “socialism” and “martial law” that would only seem coherent to a regular reader of a militia news outlet.
It’s an objectively bad bill promoted by someone who claims that public schools are like “inmate detention centers” and “foster care” and who believes that public schools would be better off if troubled students were just allowed to leave and never attend.
Outside of the paranoid fantasies DeVries seems to have learned from watching too much Alex Jones and Glen Beck, Montana already affords parents the right to educate their children at home. All parents must do is demonstrate that they have records of immunization (which they can opt out of), teach the required subjects, and keep track of attendance and hours. That’s it. No mandated curriculum, no socialist indoctrination, no prohibitions of science texts that claim the earth is 6,000 years old.
Parents have all the freedom DeVries claims they have lost, AS LONG AS THEY ACTUALLY EDUCATE THEIR CHILDREN.
That Mr. DeVries was elected is certainly an indictment of a system that seems almost designed to get the most extremist voices elected to the Legislature (after all, Republicans in the area had a choice between DeVries and a “pro-life” activist currently facing charges for killing someone and covering up the crime), but as School Superintendent, Elsie Arntzen has a constitutional responsibility to advocate for public schools. How did she respond to the bill? From the Independent Record:
The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) “is not taking a position on HB 303 at this time,” Spokesman Dylan Klapmeier said Thursday.
Another bold stand from a Superintendent who doesn’t seem to know either what her job is or how to do it, and another betrayal of the public school students she is supposed to fight for.
Mrs. Arntzen is unfit to hold this office and it’s time for Democratic candidates to start lining up to replace her with someone who believes in public education.