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Mass Exodus-gate
Does the Brown administration have a double standard for Christian schools?

In one of the many case in which Oregon Governor Kate Brown is being sued by private parties over her COVID-19 policies, one of the issues being raised is why are private schools -- specifically Christian schools -- suffering extra scrutiny? In the case of Horizon Christian School v. Kate Brown, the answer to that question may rest on a comment made by Leah Horner, who is an advisor to Governor Kate Brown on Jobs and the Economy.

As advisors to the Governor were depositions, their testimony is telling regarding the position of the Brown Administration toward private, Christian schools and how they regard teachers' unions.

The flap started when Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett made a post in facebook where she commented on a conversation she had with the an unnamed member of the Governor's staff on "why private, parochial and faith-based schools were not being allowed to open once they’d submitted their plans to keep kids safe." The commissioner reports that the advisor to the Governor said, "We don’t want to see a mass exodus from the public schools." It turns out that the advisor was Leah Horner, who is Governor Brown's advisor on Jobs and the Economy.

The comment is not only significant in that it shows the Brown Administration's disregard for the outcomes of all children, but it's an indication that private, Christian schools are being held to a different standard for the purpose of protecting public schools and public employee unions. The evidence is not only in what the witnesses say, but in how evasive they are.

In this deposition, the questions are being asked by John Kaempf, attorney for plaintiffs and the person being deposed is Lindsey Capps, the Governor’s Chief Education Officer:

Q. Beyond the general concern, isn't it true that one or more school districts have been concerned about a mass exodus from the public schools if private or religious schools are allowed to reopen?
A. I don't recall ever hearing that from a specific district around private schools.
Q. Did you ever hear that in any context related to the pandemic?
A. Not that I recall.
Q. Now isn't it true that on July 9 of 2020, after the Wall Street Journal opinion article that we've talked about was published, that Leah Horner, an economic policy advisor to the governor, used the identical concern and raised the identical concern about a quote, "mass exodus from public schools," end quote?
A: I was not aware of any comments on her part.
Q. Have you seen the declaration of Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett in this case?
A. I have seen communication from the commissioner. I'm not sure of which one you are stating.
Q. I'll represent to you that she testified that on July 29, 2020, Leah Horner did state a concern about a mass exodus from public schools if parochial schools are allowed to reopen. Do you know if that is true or not, that Ms. Horner made that statement?
A. I don't know if that's true.
Q. To your knowledge, is Governor Brown concerned about a mass exodus from public schools if private or religious schools are allowed to reopen for in-person classes?
A. Not to my knowledge.
Q. Now getting back to the Wall Street Journal editorial we've been talking about, it also states in reference to teachers unions that, quote, "under pressure from the unions, the Oregon Department of Education stopped allowing transfers on March 27," end quote. Is that true? What I want to know is, first, did you ever get pressure from the teachers unions to stop allowing transfers out of public schools?
A. No.
Q. Did the Oregon Department of Education ever stop allowing transfers out of public schools to charter or private schools?
A. No, there's still a process in place.
Q. The Wall Street Journal editorial we're talking about references an Oregon Department of Education March 24, power point presentation. Do you know what that is?
A. I do not.
Q. You ever heard anything about that March 24 power point presentation?
A. I don't know the presentation to which you are speaking.
Q. Back to the Wall Street opinion piece, it also states, quote, "even during a national crisis, unions would rather deprive students of an education than see their charter school competitors succeed," end quote. Do you agree?
A. I believe you are asking me do I agree with the opinion of the Wall Street Journal?
Q. That specific statement, do you agree, yes or no?
A. I think it's a simple statement, overly simplistic.
Q. Do you agree with it or disagree with it?
A. I don't know how to answer either way.
Q. Are you aware of whether this Wall Street Journal editorial board opinion sparked the concern among any members of the Governor's staff?
A. Not that I'm aware of.

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

Q. To this day, does that Wall Street Journal opinion concern you?
A. I think the overriding concern for me is to continue to serve students as effectively and safely as we can during this pandemic.
Q. I'm talking about the Wall Street Journal article. Does it concern you as you sit here today?
A. I can't speak to that.
Q. To your knowledge, did that Wall Street Journal article concern Governor Brown?
A. No, not that I'm aware of.
Q. Did you ever discuss it with her?
A. No.
Q. In a text message dated April 1 of 2020, Nik Blosser immediately after providing the link to this Wall Street Journal article we've been talking about, he wrote, quote, "Sent you and GKP some quick talking points for the 1:30 call," end quote? Do you recall that?
A. Without further context, I don't.
Q. This text message that's labeled 004171 from April 1st of 2020 is written by Nike Blosser. Do you recall receiving a text to that effect about needing to have a 1:30 call and quick talking points about the Wall Street Journal article?
A. I don't recall the interaction.
Q. Do you ever recall a 1:30 call on April 1st of 2020, the day after that Wall Street Journal opinion article?
A. I don't but we've never discussed that topic.
Q. In an April 2nd, 2020 text message, Nik Blosser wrote, and I can't tell who he wrote it to, it says, quote, "please give me a call when you can, urgent," end quote. Do you recall getting that text message?
A. No.
Q. In that same text message Nik Blosser provides a link to a breitbart.com article dated April 2 of 2020, the same day as the text message. And it's entitled, quote, "teachers unions pressure on states to clamp down on virtual charter schools during pandemic," end quote. Do you recall ever seeing that breitbart.com article about teachers unions pressure?
A. Generally in the public square.

Much later in the deposition, the conversation with Lindsey Capps about Horner's comment about "Mass Exodus" continues. Despite Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett's facebook post, the "mass exodus" comment and the substantive fact of the danger to public schools is either denied or not remembered.

Q. Did you suggest or order anything be done concerning what Ms. Horner said about the mass exodus from public schools, at least according to Ms. Starrett?
A. No.
Q. Did you ever talk to Leah about Ms. Starrett's contention that she made that mass exodus from public schools statement?
A. I did not speak to her.
Q. To your knowledge, has Leah Horner admitted that those words came out of her mouth on July 29?
A. No.
Q. Are you pleased or displeased that Ms. Horner may have said that?
A. I would just say that it's not the place of a state to articulate a position toward public or private school. Our emergency authority applies to both.
Q. Was Leah Horner disciplined in any way for supposedly making that statement?
A. Not that I'm aware of.

Jody Christensen, the Mid-Valley Regional Solutions Coordinator for the Governor's Office was also deposed regarding her recollection of conversations concerning the threat to public schools. Again, she denies knowledge of the comment -- including speaking with Leah Horner about it -- and the underlying issue of the threat to public schools.

Q. At any time this year have you ever heard or seen Governor Brown express a concern about a significant amount of students leaving public schools because of the pandemic?
A. No.
Q. Have you ever heard or seen Lindsey Capps make any statement like that?
A. No.
Q. Have you ever heard Leah Horner make any statement or write any statement like that?
A. The term "mass exodus" was used during the August 5th meeting.
Q. Was any other phrase like that ever used by Leah Horner this year?
A. No.
Q. Okay. And did you ever hear any other person who works for the Oregon government express any concern, whether it was mass exodus or just saying worried, about a large amount of kids leaving public schools because of the pandemic?
A. No.
Q. Okay. So did [Yamhill County] Commissioner Kulla ever express a concern like that?
A. I don't recall.
Q. Do you recall any county commissioner ever expressing that concern in any conference call you attended this year?
A. I don't recall.
Q. All right. Do you recall any Oregon politician expressing any concern like that in any kind of writing, like an email or a text message?
A. I don't recall.
Q. Have you ever personally been concerned about a large amount of students leaving public schools during the pandemic?
A. No.

Jody Christensen's deposition about Horner's remark continued after more testimony. The denials continue.

Q. All right. Are you aware of anyone in Oregon's government at any time this year expressing a concern about a large amount of students leaving public schools?
A. I am not aware.
Q. Do you know whether that topic has ever been the subject of any written report within the Oregon government?
A. I am not aware.
Q. Have you ever helped to create or ever read a report showing the possible financial effects of students leaving public schools for private schools during the pandemic?
A. No.
Q. Before this August 5th meeting we're talking about, where you testified Ms. Horner used the phrase "mass exodus," had you ever heard that phrase come up before in any county commissioner meeting?
A. No.
Q. Had you ever seen that phrase in writing before the August 5th meeting related to the pandemic?
A. No.
Q. Have you ever used the phrase "mass exodus" in relation to the pandemic?
A. No.
Q. Are you aware of anyone else in Oregon's government who's used that term this year, relating to the pandemic?
A. No.
Q. Now, in the declaration that Ms. Horner filed in this case that's, you know, written testimony, she says that when she made the mass exodus statement she says, quote, [as read:] I had been discussing a concern that had been raised in another call about the potential loss to an educational institution of state school funds if students were disenrolling from such a school, end quote. Do you recall Ms. Horner that day making a reference to another call about the potential loss to an educational institution?
A. I don't recall that.

At this point, based on the testimony of two of Governor Brown's staffers, one might conclude that the phrase "mass exodus" was not used -- save for the August 5th meeting -- and/or that there was no concern for public school loss of enrollment. The deposition of Leah Horner, herself tells a different tale.

Q. During what you're saying is the August 5th conference call with county commissioners, did Mary Starrett, a Yamhill County commissioner, ask you why parochial schools were not being allowed to reopen?
A. I don't recall that specifically, but she has asked those -- she did ask a question along those lines.
Q. Okay. And as best you can recall, what questions did she ask along that line?
A. I believe she had asked if private, religious schools would have the opportunity to operate under different guidance than the K-12 public school system.
Q. And what did you say in response to that question?
A. I believe my response was no, that all schools would be falling under one statewide Department of Education guidance.
Q. Did you say in response to that question from Mary Starrett that there was a concern about a mass exodus from public schools if private or religious schools were allowed to reopen?
A. I did use the term there would -- there could be a mass exodus from public schools. But it was not in the context directly correlated to private or religious schools. It was also in the context of school disenrollment for children moving to online schools, virtual schools, charter schools, and it was in correlation to the fact that disenrollment from public schools modifies the school funding methodology. And in previous conversations that I had had that week with other county commissioners, they were unaware of what that disenrollment from public school does to their school -- their share of the state school fund, and so I was sharing that as a point of information.
Q. And I understand you're saying that context is different. But I just want to confirm, isn't it true, then, that during this meeting you say was on August 5th that Mary Starrett and others attended, you did -- the words, quote [as read:] mass exodus from public schools did come out of your mouth, end quote.
A. Yes.

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

Q. Do you recall what Mary Starrett said in response to you saying there would be a mass exodus from public schools?
A. I do not recall.
Q. Before today, have you read Mary Starrett's declaration?
A. I do not recall.
Q. Okay. Paragraph two of the declaration you filed in this case says that you have read it, Mrs. Starrett's declaration. Does that refresh your recollection?
A. Yes, it does to some degree. That's why I indicated I did not recall because I feel I probably did read it at some point, but I don't have it fresh in my mind.
Q. Okay. How did you feel when you read it given that it's fairly short and specifically talks about you?
A. Again, I don't -- I honestly don't recall reading it.
Q. Okay. I don't want to know about conversations with your lawyer, the governor's lawyers, that's legally none of my business. But what I do want to know is, did you talk about Mary Starrett's declaration with anyone on the governor's staff ever? If it involved lawyers, I don't want to know that. But I want to know of people who are not lawyers that you worked with, for example, Jody Christensen, people like that, did you ever with such people, nonlawyers, discuss Mary Starrett's declaration in this case?
A. Yes.
Q. Who did you discuss that with?
A. I discussed that with Jody Christensen.
Q. And was that in writing or verbally or both?
A. Verbally. It was verbally.
Q. And what was Jody's reaction? What did she say when you discussed that?
A. I think Jody and I were trying to recall the conversation, and we both recollected very similar statements that were had on that call.
Q. Did Jody say to you, in so many words, that yes, she recalled that you did use the phrase "mass exodus" from public schools?
A. I don't know if Jody used that phrase, but I recall using that phrase. And so I offered that up as part of the conversation with Jody.
Q. Because you do recall that.
A. Yes.

Again, this is significant because it may indicate that Governor Brown and her administration have more concern for the teachers' unions than they do for the children of the State of Oregon.


--Staff Reports

Post Date: 2020-11-23 19:47:10Last Update: 2020-11-23 21:36:55



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