Friday, April 25, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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GATE petition controversy not limited to North Davis

It turns out North Davis Elementary School is not the only community affected by GATE-gate.

The controversy over an online petition in support of the Davis school district’s Gifted and Talented Education program — a petition found to contain forged signatures and quotes falsely attributed to Davis parents — also has affected a parent from a group seeking changes to the GATE program, as well as a parent at Korematsu Elementary School who had nothing to do with either group.

A judge last week ordered the online petition website, change.org, to produce the IP addresses used to impersonate five North Davis parents. An attorney representing one of those parents said it appeared that all of the victims — a total of nine that he was aware of — were parents at North Davis whose email addresses were taken from the school directory and used to set up change.org accounts.

However, the very first fraudulent comment reported to Anupam Chander, the UC Davis law professor who created the pro-GATE petition on behalf of the group Davis Excel, came from a parent involved with the group Proposing Alternatives in GATE Education (PAGE). And the most recent report comes from a parent at Korematsu.

PAGE member Karen Hamilton, whose child does not attend North Davis, discovered a quote falsely attributed to her on the Davis Excel petition on Feb. 2.

The quote, she said, was not only attributed to her, but mentioned her 10-year-old daughter by name as well as the school she attends. Hamilton contacted Chander, who removed the comment immediately.

That same day, Hamilton also discovered a comment on the petition PAGE had created — a comment that again mentioned her daughter by name and also mocked Hamilton for advocating for alternatives to self-contained GATE classrooms. Hamilton deleted the comment, which she referred to as “spiteful.”

Chander said he considered the whole episode an odd but unique occurrence, and that he did not hear of any other forgeries until North Davis parent Meghan Zavod contacted him on Feb. 27 to report a quote falsely attributed to her on the Davis Excel petition. He subsequently heard from other North Davis parents who had discovered they, too, were victims of impersonation on the Excel petition and Chander said he emailed all 383 people listed as signers on the petition on Feb. 28 to confirm that they had indeed signed it.

Whether Jill Deuser received that email is unclear, but her husband, Terry Tippie, said his family only learned that Deuser’s name was on the Excel petition after reading about the controversy in The Enterprise.

Tippie, who has two children at Korematsu, visited change.org to see the Davis Excel petition, and when he did, he said he discovered the following quote attributed to his wife:

“My son is in GATE and it’s been an amazing experience for him. He is focused in school for the first time. It offers a unique learning opportunity that he could never have in an overcrowded, regular classroom. I know that over 80 percent of the National Merit Semifinalists and Commended Scholars at Davis High School come from the GATE program. I’m very worried about how losing the GATE program will affect our academic competitiveness as a district. Certainly our test scores keep slipping every year.”

Tippie said he knew immediately they were not his wife’s words.

“The comments falsely attributed to her reflect an ignorance of even the most basic facts about our family,” he said. “For example, we have twins, one in GATE and one in the non-GATE program at Korematsu, and feel we have been well-served by both. Our children simply have different needs.”

Moreover, he added, the comment that “our child could never focus before he was in the GATE program … that is patently untrue.

“And it listed facts and figures about test scores… as if my wife was very concerned about competing in a very hierarchical society,” he added. “That’s not how we think at all.”

As with the North Davis parents, Tippie suspects the culprit found his wife’s email address in the Korematsu school directory and used it to set up a change.org account.

“We originally put our names in the school directory thinking it would help our kids set up play dates with their friends,” he added. ”It is sad when I find myself scrambling to remove my name from school directories to protect our identities. It leaves you unsure about how your identity would be used and that’s not a good feeling.”

The comment falsely attributed to Deuser was still on the petition as of Thursday, well over a month after it was first posted.

Davis Excel, the group that formed to advocate for preservation of the current GATE model, has since closed the petition to additional signatures and comments, but the petition remains online at http://www.change.org/petitions/davis-school-board-preserve-excellence-in-education.

Korematsu Principal Mary Ponce said that after hearing about the forgery involving Deuser, she, too, visited change.org to review the petition and related quotes and said Wednesday she saw no other Korematsu parents listed among those quoted.

She also said in an email that she had contacted the school district offices, which she said investigated the school’s student information system — known as Zangle — and found no tampering through which someone might have obtained Deuser’s email address in order to create the change.org account.

And though whoever is responsible for the forgeries may well be revealed in the next several weeks if the subpoena produces a traceable IP address, Davis Excel members have been insisting in recent days that only someone opposed to the current GATE model would forge signatures and make up quotes on their petition.

Davis Excel supporter Bob Erwin commented that, “whoever forged the signatures used the correct email addresses of the victims, thus increasing the probability that the forgeries would be discovered. Why would that be? Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the perpetrator sought to discredit those who support the Davis GATE program. I wonder who that could be?”

However, Hamilton noted, many of the forged signatures on the Davis Excel petition were accompanied by comments actually supporting the goals of that petition. And no Davis Excel members appear to have been impersonated or attacked on either their own petition or the PAGE petition, but PAGE member Hamilton has been the subject of impersonation on both.

Hamilton said PAGE has contacted all of its petition signers and has received no reports of forgeries. She added that the group never delivered the full petition with all of its signatures to the school board or anyone else, though it did send school board members and district administrators a link to the petition in early February.

Davis Excel did distribute its petition, along with quotes falsely attributed to Davis parents, to the school board, to The Enterprise and to parents at a GATE-related meeting.

For his part, Tippie said simply, “I would like to not see this happen again.

“I have no idea whether somebody would want to discredit the GATE program or support it in a very misguided way,” he said. “But I’m going to be more cautious about releasing personal information in the future.

“Most of the people I talked to registered shock that someone would do that,” he added.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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