The Board of Education ended its meeting Monday night with one member after another taking the floor to apologize for signing an open letter supporting the Nashua Teachers Union and its request to delay Common Core-based assessment testing for at least two years.
The letter, written by David Murotake, and signed by Kim Muise, Sandra Zeihm, William Mosher, Elizabeth Van Twuyver, Dotty Oden and former board member Jack Kelley, represented a quorum of the board. Although the letter was circulated by email, and members never met as a group to discuss it, city attorney Stephen Bennett described the board members actions as "a violation of the spirit of the right-to-know law."
"Sequential communications can violate the right-to-know law," said Bennett who added the letter may have also violated the board's own bylaws on open meetings and transparency.
The letter supported the union's request to the state Department of Education to allow Nashua to choose an alternative test. According to the letter, there are problems with the Common Core-based Smarter Balance Assessment tests, and Nashua students should not be used as "guinea pigs" for a test that isn't ready yet for "prime time."
"Dr. Murotake said, 'I have written this letter, would you like to endorse it?'" said Ziehm. "I think other members (who signed) were unaware it was a quorum."
A number of members also said they felt they were expressing personal views. But BEO member Stephen Haas said that while fellow board members may have been acting on their individual beliefs, they signed the letter as members of the city's Board of Education.
"You're not individuals when you have six members signing," he said.
Murotake, who is also a Nashua state representative, has filed legislation that calls for a delay in Common Core-based testing.
Murotake was not at Monday's meeting, but sent a statement that was read by co-chaiman Muise.
"I owe an apology to board members," wrote Murotake. "It was not my intent to violate our transparency rules."
Murotake said the letter was never meant to represent the view of the Board of Education.
BOE member Robert Hallowell said the letter expressed the same concerns that were raised when Murotake proposed a measure to the board that would have delayed the tests for two years in Nashua. Hallowell said that proposal was debated and ultimately rejected.
"We have an obligation to publicly take positions, and debate them in public," said Hallowell. "The letter made it appear as if the board had taken a stance."
The Common Core Standards-based assessment tests will be required as of spring 2015.
Common Core critics have said the national standards usurp local control of schools, the curriculum reflects a political agenda, the standards are really substandard, and the initiative lacks evidence to support its promise of success.