Elsie Arntzen Proves Again That She’s Unfit for Office

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I actually home schooled my daughter for social studies one semester (one period a day) when she was in seventh grade, and I was shocked at how little oversight there was. All I had to do was to sign a form stating that I was home schooling her fifty minutes a day during the semester. I may have had to list the topics we were covering–but in course name form (Montana history) rather than by providing a syllabus. And that was it. My takeaway: It is way TOO easy to home-school in Montana and there aren’t nearly enough safeguards.

  • Maybe there are instances where home schooling had a good result, however, I fear it is much more likely to be used by parents who are terrified of their children becoming anything but a mirror image of themselves. It’s narcissism unbounded. The notion only parents have a right to teach culture to their children ignores the fact that the rest of us have to live with the result. The state has, I maintain, a responsibility to claim the child, to see to it that they are raised in a way that makes it possible to live a meaningful life with the rest of us. Allowing children to be raised in a paranoid, authoritarian, and dysfunctional family, without any access to the outside world is as dangerous as it is oppressive.

  • I disagree with this bill but I dont think accusing the Republicans is the answer. I dont care what party your in. Represent the people that voted you in. Decries is doing his own thing without seeking the support of the people.

  • We had a great candidate who is a Public School Teacher and when the red wave came through with who is now holding the Federal Office we got people who are inappropriate for office. There were candidates who were appropriate for Secretary of State, State Auditor and OPI and now we are stuck with people who have zero clue. The voting public needs to wake up as we are suffering consequences of an election and we have people unethically fit for office.

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