Yesterday, after receiving a number of emails about it, I posted the audio of DPI spokesman Dale Wetzel appearing on the Jay Thomas Show. Many opponents of Common Core felt that Wetzel’s demeanor during the interview wad needlessly condescending to their side, and to be sure Wetzel was pretty blunt in his criticisms of Common Core critics including Dr. Duke Pesta.
Pesta is a homeschooling advocate who is headlining some anti-Common Core events in the state.
But my post about Wetzel was intended to comment on how ugly the Common Core fight has become on both sides. As a part of that, I mentioned that the Department of Public Instruction, under Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, has been sending out talking points criticizing Pesta. That prompted a call from Superintendent Baesler herself telling me that her office would never send out something like that. She gave me a little speech about her office was about ideas and facts, not attacking individuals.
That didn’t exactly square with Wetzel’s performance on the radio, where he pretty clearly went after Pesta personally (audio here), but I was willing to take Baesler’s word for it. If she said they weren’t sending out the Pesta emails to lawmakers and other state leaders, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. So I corrected my post.
It turns out I shouldn’t have given Baesler the benefit of the doubt. A SAB reader forwarded me the email below in which you can see Rep. Mike Nathe, a Bismarck Republican, introducing a list of anti-Pesta talking points as something coming from DPI.
“I received this information below on this fellow from Dale Wetzel today who is now the Public Information Office for DPI,” writes Nathe in the email who also confirmed to me in a telephone conversation this morning that he did forward the emails and that his source was Wetzel.
So Baesler tells me her office is not sending out emails looking to undermine Pesta’s credibility on this issue, but that wasn’t true. The emails, if not originating with her office, were certainly being forwarded by her office. Maybe Baesler didn’t know about the emails. Maybe Wetzel was acting on his own. But he was still acting in his capacity as the PIO for DPI, and Baesler is the one who hired him.
Which brings me to another interesting question. Why were these emails being sent from firstname.lastname@example.org? That looks suspiciously like a private email address created to work around the public email system which, of course, is open to open records requests.
I’ve sent a request for information about the email address – why it was created and how it’s used – as well as an open records request for the last 30 days of emails to and from it.
The Common Core issue is a mess. Parents are upset. Teachers are upset. Accusations and conspiracy theories are flying, as are valid criticisms and rebuttals. But you have to wonder if the discourse around this issue might be a little cooler, and little more level-headed, if Baesler’s office was handling it in a more forthright manner.
Here’s a screenshot of the email.