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Moyers Superintendent stands up for students after tragic loss

April 24, 2014

State Superintendent Janet Barresi, after feeling the pressure from voters and state officials, finally exempted two students at Moyers Public School from state testing Wednesday after the school’s superintendent posted an impassioned note on the system’s Facebook page, and it went viral!
Barresi said the status, which garnered thousands of likes and shares despite the page itself being followed by only about 700 people, came to her attention late Tuesday. It also inflamed tensions between Barresi and her detractors, even leading one state senator, unaware the exemption had already been granted, to call for her resignation.
The students, two sixth-graders in the Moyers Public Schools System, lost their parents, Rodney and Crystal Sutterfield, in a two-car crash Sunday that claimed four lives about a mile west of Grant on U.S. 271.
Moyers’ superintendent, Donna Dudley, said on the school’s Facebook page Tuesday that she had personally exempted the two students from state mandated tests, despite believing the State Department of Education had declined the school’s request.
Dudley said Wednesday the school has just 215 students, and at the time Dudley posted the status, she said she feared the school’s letter grade could drop if the students missed testing.
“That was my concern,” Dudley said. “We’re a small school ... with a testing population as small as what we have, every student counts. And I felt like, reading some of the comments on the post, I’m just the tip of the iceberg on denials for issues that should receive exemptions.”
Education Department spokesman Phil Bacharach said an “honest miscommunication” led to Dudley’s belief that the exemption request had been denied, and Barresi said Wednesday she had spoken to Dudley earlier in the morning to apologize for the “miscommunication between our staffer and (Moyers’) testing coordinator.”
But Dudley said later Wednesday their testing coordinator had been told Monday by Joyce DeFehr, Oklahoma’s director of state testing, that the two students could not receive an emergency exemption “because those were reserved for medical issues with students.”
She did say ‘Why don’t we wait and see and the kids can come back and test then,’” Dudley said she was told. “My stance was that it doesn’t matter if they come back this week or the week after, I don’t think a test at this point in their lives is valid.”
Barresi said exemption requests, which are handled on a case-by-case basis, don’t typically rise to her level. However, she was notified of the Facebook post, in which Dudley said she feared the school getting an “F” for not meeting their testing percentage, had come to her attention Tuesday night. Initially believing it to be an “urban legend,” she nevertheless verified the post Wednesday, then contacted Dudley.
Despite the school system’s Facebook page having less than 700 likes, Dudley’s post had been shared more than 2,500 times and liked more than 5,000 times. Most, if not all, of the comments supported Dudley’s post, and many called for state residents to contact Barresi’s office, urging her to grant the exemption.
And as the post spread through the Internet, it caught the eye, and ire, of one state senator.
State Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valiant, held a news conference Wednesday afternoon in order to apply pressure on the state Education Department, he said.
Despite the exemption already being approved, Ellis said Barresi needed to resign her post as state superintendent.
“It shouldn’t have to go to this (public pressure) to get something done,” Ellis said. “I asked for her resignation. ... It’s terrible. It’s a lack of common sense, and she needs to resign.”

The post was as follows:

“In my 25 years in education I have seen many changes. As a teacher, principal and superintendent, I have always tried to make these changes adapt to our particular school in a way that follows the guidelines but also takes into consideration the individual child.This has worked relatively well as I feel that we follow state guidelines and our students' needs are always considered. Personally, as an educator, I have always felt that too much emphasis has been placed on testing but if that is what is required by individuals more qualified than myself, then that is what we will do. However, with that being said, I find myself in a very difficult position. We have a family of students whose parents were both killed in a car accident this week. When our district test administrator called the State Department of Education to ask for an emergency exemption for these students, it was denied. This is not considered a reason for exemption by the SDE. The SDE believes these students should be tested and their scores be used to not only judge them but also used to evaluate their teachers and their school at a time in their life that is unimaginable to most. So as administrator of our district, I have made the decision to go against the SDE rules and exempt these students from taking their tests. This may or may not cause our school to receive an "F" on our school report card for not meeting our testing percentage but it is the only decision that best meets the needs of our students. As an educator and a human being with a reasonable amount of common sense, I don't feel like any test these students take during this time would be valid in any way. Testing and its importance are quickly escalating out of control and our common sense appears to be going in the opposite direction.
Donna Dudley”

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