Petition launched regarding Arntzen’s leadership at OPI

On Dec. 15, a coalition of parents, educators and community advocates launched a petition in support of the decision by Montana’s AA superintendents to release a letter expressing their lack of confidence in Superintendent Elsie Arntzen.

Montana AA school superintendents send letter of no confidence to Arntzen, state superintendent

In less than 24 hours, the petition has been signed by 2,081 Montanans, according to the Montana Federation of Public Employees.

On Dec. 6, superintendents of the Montana AA school districts, including Great Falls Public Schools, sent a letter to Arntzen, the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, regarding their “disappointment in your leadership has our state’s chief public education officer” and “we express no confidence in your performance as Montana’s chief public education officer.”

[READ: The full letter to Arntzen]

In their letter, they wrote that local school boards and districts have limited resources and legal obligations, “it is increasingly difficult to provide the constitutionally protected education our children deserve while your office is simultaneously failing to provide the critical assistance we need.”

The letter is signed by the superintendents of Billings Public Schools, Belgrade School District, Bozeman Public Schools, Great Falls Public Schools, Missoula County Public Schools, Butte Public Schools, Kalispell Public Schools and Helena Public Schools.

Those districts include 64,000 students, or nearly 45 percent of the state’s public school enrollment, according to the letter.

MFPE President Amanda Curtis released the following statement:

Superintendent Elsie Arntzen’s time “leading” the Office of Public Instruction has been an unmitigated disaster for Montana students, families, and communities. Superintendent Arntzen has spent public time and resources attacking public schools when we need unity and strong leadership more than anything. She has done her level best to drive a wedge between parents, teachers, trustees, and administrators, but the overwhelming and diverse support for this petition shows that we are united in at least one thing: a call for Superintendent Arntzen to do better. We invite her to join the rest of us in providing a great public education for all Montana’s children.

Parental rights advocates come to Arntzen’s defense

On Dec. 14, two public school board trustees from Missoula and Kalispell emailed a letter to Arntzen refuting recent criticisms of her leadership of OPI and praising her “steadfast support” for local school boards, parents and teachers.

The letter, penned by Missoula County Public Schools Trustee Michael Gehl and Smith Valley District 89 Trustee Jim Riley, commended Arntzen, a Republican, for aiding parents in “resisting superintendent agendas of forced masking and equity policies” and for bringing parental concerns about critical race theory to the attention of Attorney General Austin Knudsen. The letter, first publicized by the website Missoula County Tyranny, was signed by 21 Republican state lawmakers, five local school board trustees and more than 500 citizens from across Montana. Two in-state parental rights groups — Stand Up Montana and Montana Parents’ Rights in Education — were also listed as signatories.

The Dec. 15 petition can be found here and the copy of the petition follows:

Montana’s students, families, and educators deserve an elected public school leader who supports and champions the work we do together to provide a free, quality public education to every Montana child. After suffering five years of incompetence from the current Superintendent of Public Instruction, we join the public outcry for Elsie Arntzen to do better.

As Montana students, parents, educators, and community members, we demand that Superintendent Arntzen cease and desist in her campaign to undermine our locally elected school board trustees.

We implore Superintendent Arntzen to return to work at the OPI to correct the backlog of teacher licensure applications, exorbitant employee turnover, lack of special education support, and delays in accreditation.  

We beg Superintendent Arntzen to immediately remove the red tape preventing schools from accessing critical covid relief and student mental health funding.

We stand in full support of Montana school and county superintendents in their admonition to Superintendent Arntzen that “for us to best do our jobs, we need you to be doing yours.”