Teacher claims he was blackballed for anti-Common Core comments

Gary Grado//December 2, 2014

Teacher claims he was blackballed for anti-Common Core comments

Gary Grado//December 2, 2014

Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal
Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal

A Tucson-area teacher filed suit today claiming high-ranking Department of Education staffers called him an offensive name, documented their misgivings in his file and blackballed him for a public tirade against Common Core.

Brad McQueen is asking Maricopa County Superior Court to restore his eligibility to serve on department teacher committees again and declare that the department violated his free speech rights by retaliating against him.

He is represented by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank and legal firm.  Goldwater attorneys are asking for their fees to be paid by the state if they win in court.

McQueen was serving on a committee evaluating questions for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, when he spoke out against the Common Core learning standards.  PARCC is an association of states that has developed a test aligned with Common Core.

He said in a podcast he was “getting a ‘. . . sick feeling about this Common Core thing . . .’” and that a new data system was going to “suction all manner of information about our kids and our teachers out of the classroom and into this Common Core machine.”

He also published an article advocating for passage of a bill that would have effectively repealed Common Core and wrote a letter to the Arizona Capitol Times criticizing the standards, known in the state as Arizona College and Career Ready standards.

McQueen’s comments came early this year as the Legislature debated bills to either do away with the standards or water them down.

At the time, Arizona also had a strong presence in PARCC, including Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, who was on the PARCC Governing Board, but the state later withdrew from the association.

McQueen’s attorneys, Courtney Van Cott and Kurt Altman, allege in the complaint that high-ranking department staff members began sending each other emails complaining about his comments.

Huppenthal’s top deputy at the time, Kathy Hrabluk, sent an email to two other employees to inform them McQueen was “on a roll criticizing” Common Core.

“Just thought you might want to check your list of teacher teams. He is one unhappy camper,” Hrabluk wrote.

Irene Hunting, associate superintendent for assessments, replied to Hrabluk’s email.

“Thank you. We have made a note in his record,” Hunting wrote.

A few days later, Angela Escobar, program project specialist, used a made up word combining an expletive and slur to describe McQueen in an email.

Although McQueen had served for five years on various teacher committees related to different tests and was paid by testing vendors, he was no longer invited to serve after he made his public comments.

Altman said the other committees had nothing to do with Common Core, a fact that further proves the department retaliated against him.

McQueen’s attorneys also allege that he got a phone call from Sarah Gardner, Arizona director for PARCC assessments, on his classroom telephone and “discussed his public statements regarding Common Core in an intimidating fashion.”

“During the conversation, Gardner asked plaintiff whether he understood the Common Core and was currently implementing it in his classes, as required,” the lawsuit states.

Altman said McQueen emailed Huppenthal to report the retaliation he was feeling and that the schools chief simply forwarded it to the people McQueen was complaining about.

Altman said Huppenthal then went on to criticize McQueen publicly on the campaign trail.

Sally Stewart, a spokeswoman for the department, declined comment.