GATE-gate. It’s the ultimate scandalous nickname that’s drawing snickers all over town. Too bad it’s not funny.
As Sunday’s front-page story by Anne Ternus-Bellamy began, “The already heated debate about the school district’s Gifted and Talented Education program took an ugly turn last week with the discovery that a pro-GATE petition on the website Change.org contained forged signatures and written testimonials falsely attributed to Davis parents.”
That’s pretty much the story in a nutshell, except that things are considerably uglier for those who had their identities stolen and reputations sullied by a morally challenged individual (or individuals) with unknown motives.
Added Ternus-Bellamy: “The petition, addressed to the Davis school board, says, ‘We the undersigned are parents, teachers and citizens of Davis who strongly support the current DJUSD self-contained GATE program’ and calls for ‘no significant changes to the GATE program without a demonstration that the current program is failing its students.’ ”
It’s a debate that’s been going on for some time in our family and many others, pitting those who believe exceptional students deserve exceptional programs against those who question the very basis of a GATE program in the first place.
“The petition,” the story goes on, “was created by the newly formed group, Davis Excel, which included a link to the petition on its website and in written materials provided to The Enterprise last week. However, late last week, parents began reporting that they had never made the comments attributed to them or signed the petition.”
Yes, the Davis Excel folks submitted 25 separate quotes to The Enterprise, which was planning a story on GATE and the petition drive, without bothering to contact those who were quoted to see if those were actually their words or if they wished to be quoted in the newspaper.
As crazy as that may sound, it was only the beginning of a weekend of frustration for one of those parents whose identity was stolen and who had false and hurtful comments attributed to her for all the world to see. That parent would be my wife, Shelley.
She and many others were violated, and the list of those defrauded continues to grow each day as more and more people find their names and their comments were manufactured out of thin air.
We have four children in the same Davis elementary school. It is a superb elementary school with an excellent learning environment where all students, GATE and non-GATE alike, are cherished. We have one child in GATE, two not in GATE, and one too young to be considered for GATE.
But what has always pleased us about this school is that all of our children — no matter how “gifted and talented” some questionable test deems them to be — are challenged to excel, to be the best they can be. Each one of them is thriving in his or her respective environment. They bounce along the sidewalk every morning, eager to start the school day, a trait they clearly did not inherit from their father.
Shelley and I are overwhelmingly pleased with the effort and skill and dedication of all of our kids’ teachers. Actually, we feel that way about every teacher at this school, from kindergarten all the way through sixth grade.
It’s one of the reasons Shelley and I have both voted for every single school parcel tax that has come down the road. Our dollars are being well spent and all four of our children are receiving a quality of education that I’d willingly compare to any other school experience in the country.
But the made-up comment attributed to my wife by this evil-minded and as-yet-anonymous individual said, in part, “I have one child in the GATE program and then another not in the program at the same school. The difference between the depth and breadth of what the two are learning is incredible. My child not in the program is often bored and simply fills in the blanks of boring worksheets. My GATE child is challenged to go deeper, faster and better.”
It’s bad enough to have your identity stolen and false words put into your mouth, but it’s doubly bad when those words are hurtful to you and especially to others. School board members read those words. Our kids’ teachers read those words. Given how truly gifted all these teachers are, I can’t imagine those words were pleasant to see.
Hopefully, by now they realize those words were manufactured by someone who should — and will — be exposed and appropriately charged. Stealing one’s identity and messing with a petition aimed to influence decisions of the school board are not petty crimes.
They’re a violation of all sorts of things, including the democratic process and plain human decency.
When the UC Davis law professor who created this petition contacted Change.org about the fraud, he was told in an email that “unfortunately we do not have a feature that would allow you to delete their signature on the website. The only option that we are able to offer is the option to hide their signature. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Inconvenience? This has been much, much more than an inconvenience for my wife, our family and for the many others similarly defrauded.
And while the petition organizers have denounced the fraud and apologized profusely, they have steadfastly refused to take the only fair and decent path remaining — to renounce the petition in its entirety and start over again from scratch.
Given that this petition is now hopelessly compromised, they should abandon it altogether, declare it null and void and go back to collecting signatures and comments the old-fashioned way, with a clipboard, a ball-point pen and a handful of dedicated volunteers.
It’s obvious that Change.org does not have the proper safeguards in place to prevent this sort of fraud from happening. Worse yet, it lacks the ability or the willingness to correct substantial fraud when it does occur.
GATE-gate, indeed. A sad commentary on just how low some folks will stoop to wreak havoc in the lives of others.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org