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Superintendent Mark Johnson hit with ethics complaint over email, text message blasts

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter shows ethics complaint letter on his Facebook page.

A language arts teacher from Charlotte has filed a complaint with the N.C. Ethics Commission over email and text messages State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent to educators and parents asking them to take an online survey about Common Core standards.

Justin Parmenter, a frequent critic of the superintendent who blogs at Notes from the Chalkboard, contends the messages were politically motivated. He said they were sent to aid Johnson in his bid to become the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

“Mark Johnson’s fake Common Core outrage message to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators is nothing more than an attempt to swing uninformed voters his way in the primary for Lieutenant Governor,” Parmenter said. “It’s unethical for any elected official to use state resources for personal gain.”

Parmenter said he believes as many as 10 other people filed complaints against Johnson on Thursday. He expects more people to do so over the next few days.

Chelsea Bartel, a school psychologist who lives in Durham, confirmed that she was among those who filed a complaint on Thursday.

“I believe Mr. [Mark] Johnson’s mass email and text sending on Feb. 11 constitutes a violate of the State Government Ethic Act, specially the part that prohibits use of public position for private gain,” Bartel said.

Bartel was also critical of the quality of the survey, contending it would have never been approved by school districts for research purposes.

She noted that the Wake County Public School System requires research studies to be approved by a federally approved Institutional Review Board. Such studies must also be reviewed by the Office of Data and Accountability, Bartel added.

“Having access to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens’ personal phone numbers and email addresses, as Mr. [Mark] Johnson does, is not reason enough for using that access to conduct research that has not in any way been vetted,” Bartel said.

Johnson reportedly sent 540,000 text messages and 800,000 email messages to parents and teachers asking to them take the five-question, online survey.

Policy Watch was unable to reach N.C. Department of Public Instruction spokesman Graham Wilson for comment late Thursday afternoon.

But Wilson told The News & Observer the ethics complaints are another “disingenuous attempt to discredit Johnson’s efforts to listen to actual parents and teachers, instead of Elitist Insiders.”

Johnson’s text messages and emails received an avalanche of criticism on social media Tuesday shortly after he sent them to educators and parents.

“Shame on you for a disgraceful political stunt,” retired educator Phyllis Eubank West wrote on Johnson’s Facebook page. “If you were so interested curriculum, you would have initiated surveys etc. 3 years ago and not 3 weeks before a primary. BTW, the survey is poorly designed.”

In his message to teachers and parents, Johnson said he is opposed to Common Core. If elected lieutenant governor, he could work from that post to rid the state of Common Core because he would serve on the State Board of Education.

“Opposition to Common Core from educators and parents is what I hear about the most across our state,” Johnson said in the statement. “I strongly disagreed with the State Board of Education’s decision to keep Common Core in place in 2017. But now there’s a clear path we can replicate in North Carolina to remove Common Core, and I encourage the State Board to closely examine this new option with us.”

The clear path Johnson mentioned runs through Florida. That state eliminated Common Core last week.

The State Board of Education in Florida on Wednesday adopted new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics to replace Common Core.

The new standards will apply to students in grades K-2 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. They will apply to all students the following year.

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