Cartoon of Daniel Cameron as a puppet was drawn by Marc Murphy.

UPDATE! We did it. We stopped Mitch’s puppet from becoming Kentucky’s governor. All that means, though, is that we held onto one of our final fortresses. We did not gain any new ground. Our work is not finished. But at least all is not lost and we live to fight another day!

Below is the original article:

It’s been an honor serving with my fellow comrades in the public school trenches. Greedy narcissists have taken the helm and even though most of them know we are headed off the cliff, they refuse to alter course. Many of us have already been trampled by the stampede of stupidity that left the gate years ago, which has been even more amplified as of late. Because these leaders failed to listen, failed to act, and even worse, went on the attack against the very ones doing the work and who had the answers, we are doomed. And I don’t just mean public education. I mean the enduring existence of our species on this planet. Education is the key to our collective survival, and without it, we become no more than worker ants to colonizer elites who control what’s left of the resources, if we survive at all. Sorry to start on such a downer. Keep reading. I promise, it gets better.

Our family of four began our move back to Kentucky in 2012. (I say “back” because we spent two years in rural parts of SE Kentucky in the early 2000’s due to a previous job move.) This time, we landed in Louisville, a sprawling, diverse “liberal” city with well-meaning elites (to what they owe their power and privilege), such as the Joneses (Humana), the Binghams (newspaper empire), the Browns (bourbon), and a handful of others philanthropically known to keep the “compassionate city” humming. The Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) system boasted a “commitment to diversity” through its elaborate, if not “sacred,” busing scheme and mysterious “school choice” assignment plan that made it possible for all JCPS students to choose between a school in their neighborhood or apply to one of many with different offerings.

Just kidding! School choice is a lie, regardless if it’s being offered by JCPS or a lawmaker pushing an agenda. The only students who have a choice are those whose parents know how to navigate the system, are buddies with someone who does, or who threaten legal action or going to the media when they don’t get their way. The real choice goes to the principals at each of the sought-after schools who have final say, and can push out anyone who doesn’t toe the line, staff and teachers included.

To make matters worse, children living in certain zip codes in historically Black parts of Louisville were forced to attend school outside of their neighborhoods. FOR DECADES! Sure, they could apply to transfer to a different school, but they had to meet the same criteria as those who had options, even though they may not have had the same opportunities to meet those criteria. To add insult to injury, previous leaders closed most of the schools in these marginalized neighborhoods (since they were no longer sending anyone there), so even if students from West Louisville met the lofty criteria to apply to transfer, there were NO options close to home. A new student assignment plan just passed by the JCPS school board in 2022 has the potential to slowly rectify some of those disparities, but it doesn’t go far enough fast enough, and will take away more than it gives, especially with the intermingling of the new, complicated bell schedule. History tells us that those who lack resources and agency to advocate for their rights will once again get the short end of the stick, so please don’t take your eyes off of this.

My youngest son, who was a rising freshman at the time, was a high-achiever, and an excellent high-stakes-test taker, but despite this, he struggled to get into any of the “good” high schools in JCPS. We weren’t from around there and didn’t have any connections. We were ridiculed for even asking. So, we did what we were supposed to do and looked at the “School Choice” catalog. One of the schools that DID have an opening for him was in West Louisville. My son had always wanted to be a pilot, and we learned that they had an FAA-accredited pilot training program as part of its aviation magnet curriculum. Once we got over the dilapidated conditions of the buildings and homes surrounding the school, and yes, our stereotypical beliefs that go along with them, and we met the people inside, we were sold.

That’s another story for another day (or book), but I feel it’s important to understand how I came to realize what was happening in Kentucky schools. By fate or coincidence, I was put in the right places at the right time, and I am a first-hand witness to multitudes and multitudes of wrong-doing, from those actually committing fraud in broad daylight, to those conspiring to keep it covered up, to those retaliating against anyone who dares expose them, to the victims themselves who continue to charge forward with what they know. I try to give cover to other whistleblowers so they don’t experience the same consequences for doing what’s right. That’s how our first non-profit, Dear JCPS, was started in 2015.

When I first realized that what was really happening to Kentucky’s public schools, thanks in large part to Diane Ravitch’s teachings, was due to unchecked predatory practices ravaging the country, I wanted to throw my decades of talent and experience as a corporate marketing professional into helping whatever groups were already engaged in this battle. But I couldn’t find any. I was already involved in PTAs. I had recently reinstated the PTSA at my son’s school and served for several years as Vice President for the district-wide entity, referred to as the “Superintendent’s PTA.” When I asked them to stand up against what was happening, they dragged their feet and pretended like they couldn’t. When we tried to coalition-build with like-minded groups, we had some initial success. We launched a #StopChartersInKY campaign, but PTA couldn’t get on board because they interpreted their national organization to be “pro charter”. The teachers union signed on but their President vetoed their support and pulled out at the last minute, causing us to lose funding, momentum, access to members and credibility. Almost — looking back on it — almost as if it was intentional.

I could have walked away at any point. I probably should have. But where would we be? Would someone else have stepped up? Maybe. Or would we be like Oklahoma, Florida, or worse. We pretty much already are, now, so what good did it do? I do believe we slowed it down a lot. Certainly long enough for people to see what was happening and come in to help us. But the cavalry never came. Instead our own allies, the same ones who made excuses as to why they couldn’t join us in the trenches or take messages back to their national leaders, turned on us when we needed them most. They told onlookers who wanted to come to our aid that there was “nothing to see here” and that we were the “troublemakers” who had gone “rogue.” We even caught union leaders red-handed tampering with their own internal elections so they could control who served on the board of the Political Action Committee that was responsible for powerful, lucrative endorsements. I eventually filed a complaint with the OEA, but I was told there was nothing they could do. The Commissioner’s office said the same thing. And the Attorney General. And the FBI. And KREF.

They made up lies about me, cost me seats at various tables, got me voted off the district-wide PTA, and even took away my part-time paid position as Academic Coordinator at my son’s high school, where I had also reinstated the PTA, kicked off a wing design team, served as team mom for the ROTC, and volunteered with the website, the Challenger Learning Center and anything else they needed me to do. I also fundraised for the school, brought in grants, started enrichment programs, put together email blasts, created and printed flyers, newsletters. You name it. I loved putting my talents to use marketing the magnet programs, enrichment opportunities, and the rich history and amazing architecture of the school as a whole, in order to help recruit MORE families like mine that could not only benefit from the amazing offerings at the school, but also change the trajectory and help get it out of “persistently low achieving” status. They even brought in a very skilled principal to lead the way, but it was just for show, because they wouldn’t give him the support he needed to be successful. This was not obvious to me until it was too late.

I and many others were retaliated against for “rocking the boat.” At first it was just standing up for what was right. But then it grew to whistleblowing for the things we were drawn to when we looked at why they would behave that way in the first place. More often that not, they gave themselves away. In my case, it turns out, I was interfering with their plans to sell-out the West Louisville community, and Black people in particular, one more time by turning my son’s “failing” school into a charter school. They were failing on purpose. Using high-stakes tests as a way to divide us, and allowing well-connected families to game the system to get into the “good” schools, were how they did it. District leaders and lawmakers even abused their power to stay in the good graces of those who could destroy them otherwise.

When it came to charter schools, I decided to find out how Kentucky compared to the rest of the nation. I learned that 44 other states were ahead of us and six were behind us. We were the largest state that did not yet have charter school legislation on the books. In fact, we were three times larger than the next state behind us, which was Nebraska. Furthermore, Louisville was the largest district in the state of Kentucky. Also three times larger than our next closest neighbor, Lexington. WE WERE THEIR NEXT TARGET and they had already arrived! If we wanted to have any shot at slowing or stopping them, we had to get busy!

Since I couldn’t find any existing public education groups in Kentucky that had taken a position against charters, vouchers and other plays from the privatizers’ playbook to support, I surfed the internet into the wee hours getting drawn down many rabbit holes. I started reaching out to blog authors to compare notes, and talking to groups in other states who were further ahead than Kentucky in this fight, asking them for their support. I met people all over the country who shared resources, knowledge, experiences, warnings and proprietary information. I am grateful to them for shortening my learning curve and sparing me from chasing my tail, burning more resources than I already was, and for lending their ear and advice every time we hit a wall.

One of those individuals was Dr. Lois Weiner. She reached out to me after the first wave of teacher strikes and offered her mentorship and support. Below is a video of one of those calls with some sage advice that still applies today.

At the start of the video, you may recognize a leader from another organization that eventually co-opted our work and turned an entire community against us while convincingly pretending to be doing the work we had been doing. Unfortunately, when it came time to act, they would always fall short. When we tried to hold them accountable or salvage what was left, they would always turn it around on us.

Our two groups finally fell out irreconcilably later that month when a “gang bill,” which would have disproportionately targeted our Black students, started gaining traction in the 2018 legislative session. Our efforts to try to explain to their members why we needed to keep that bill on our watchlist were met with racist reactions. The leader went around outraged, telling my white allies that I called her a racist. (I called the bill a racist bill, so by not agreeing that it needed to be on our list of bills, she inferred I was calling her racist, when in fact, I wasn’t. She claimed that title all by herself.)

She even had a mutual friend, beloved Lexington peacemaker Lucy Waterbury, call me and tell me to “stop stirring the pot.” They let me back into the group for a minute, but then I started getting tagged with questions about the bill. When I tried to answer them, that was the “final straw” and not only was I kicked out but so were many of my Black friends. At one point, so many Black people had contacted me asking me what they had done to get kicked out of the group’s Facebook account, that the only think we could determine was that they must have gone through and blocked everyone who was Black on my “friends list” who was a member, including some JCTA officers. This did not sit well with any of us, but our outspokenness against these divisive injustices, orchestrated in large part by a handful of white supremacist dictators who run the local teachers union, was met with disinterest and attacks, which continue to this day.

One of the leaders of 120 United can be seen here chastising folks in Jefferson County who wanted to stand up for their students and their profession, after repeatedly being told to wait.

In 2019, when JCPS teachers were hoodwinked by JCTA-endorsed Senator Julie Raque Adams and these same union leaders, we had another run-in. We caught my Senator (live and in-person, followed by more incriminating video footage on the replay) negotiating her game-changing “yes” vote at the last minute, selling out JCTA members by ultimately confirming Bevin’s pick, “voucher vulture” Gary Houchens, to the Kentucky Board of Education. All three of our groups were stationed in the same balcony area overlooking Senate Chambers during the roll call vote. When the deal was sealed, I turned, exchanged terse words with the JCTA President and Executive Director, and stormed off the balcony and into the hallway atop the back stairs. At that moment, like a scene from the musical, “Greece,” two high-ranking members of a rivalry “gang” exited the balcony from a door closer to the top of the stairs, stepping out into my way. The meanest of the bullies, who led the charge, wreaked of beer and body odor.

As I continued moving toward the exit, widening my approach, I turned and repeated what I had said to the teachers union representatives. Something like,

“Your girl just sold us out.”

She had recently posted pictures of herself “plotting and scheming” with my Senator at the local juke joint, no doubt, in part, to get under my skin. She worked for Fayette County Public Schools, but for whatever reason, took great interest in getting involved in our local politics. It had become clear she knew very little about dynamics within JCPS and JCTA, and apparently understood even less about politics.

“That’s because of you, Gay. You wouldn’t stop running your mouth.” She continues chasing after me, rounding her staggering gate to continue to pursue me until I reached the end of the hallway.

Her friend makes an effort to discourage the pursuit, saying “She’s not worth it.”

When I realized they were about to follow me into the musty, dark, empty stairwell. I feared for my safety, so I began recording.

As I stopped to put my shoulder into the heavy, squeaky door to thrust it open, they followed me in as I looked back to say,

This is a recording of a conversation that took place in the stairwell outside the Senate gallery on March 28, 2019 following the 18-16 Vote Confirming Governor Matt Bevin’s anti-public education appointment, EdChoice’s Gary Houchens, to the Kentucky Board of Education.

I regret that we allowed infiltrators to distract, delay, co-opt, derail our efforts. I further regret that we let them get away with it. Because they remain in power to this day, even more tightly controlled than ever, both sides of the political spectrum. I regret that I feel that there is little left to be optimistic about. But I’ve been at this crossroads before and I know that continuing to do the same things and expecting different results is a fool’s errand. And since I’m not seeing any indication that things can or will change, and I’m seeing more indifference as we approach the cliff’s edge, I am sorry but I refuse to be trampled by the stampede of stupidity. If you do too, and you want to know more about what we can do to move differently, if it’s not too late, you can reach me on my sailboat. Until then, I’ll be putting my talents to work in ways that are less likely sabotaged by a community that allows criminals to get away with such atrocities against its people and preventing Mitch McConnell’s puppet, Daniel Cameron, from being elected our state’s next Governor.

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Comments: 1

  1. Karen Hall says:

    I’m a retired teacher who worked in districts and businesses for 25 years and paid into my SSI. I lose 600 a month in ssi benefits. I believe someone like YOU could help us. You’ve got balls and do do I. If you’d like to help us let me know. I just love whistleblowers.

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