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The Lancaster School Board meeting turned heated late Monday over the district’s state testing policy and its recent decision to insist that students who choose not to take the tests remain in the classroom and do nothing for most of the testing period.

Critics of the district’s decision call it the “sit and stare” policy, but the district adamantly insists it is compromising by allowing the students opting out of the tests to read quietly at their desks for the very end of the testing period, amounting to a likely 10- to 20-minute window while test-takers finish their work.

Superintendent Michael J. Vallely blasted the media for its portrayal of the district’s recent decision and insisted that many other districts in Erie County require students who opt out of testing to sit at their desks during the entire testing period.

“We want to make sure our children are not put in the middle of the debate,” Vallely said of the controversial issue mounting in many districts.

Vallely also said the district is closely watching for any recommendations coming from the state level this week that could result in changes. “We have three months before the tests are given,” he said.

A handful of Lancaster parents affiliated with Parents for a Quality Education, a grass-roots effort challenging the new Common Core learning standards and state testing, had asked the district that the children not taking the tests be allowed to quietly read for the duration of the test or even go to another area of the school, such as the library, and be supervised.

The district rejected those suggestions, and some parents remained very unhappy Monday.

“I think the ‘sit and stare’ policy is a form of abuse and punishment,” said parent Tracy Diegelman, whose fourth-grade son will not take the tests. “I think you care more about the tests and test-takers than the children who aren’t taking them.

“I really, really do wish that you’d care for all the children in the district, not just the test-takers.”

Parent Danielle Haen also appealed to the board to change its mind and said the district has the freedom to come up with its own policy, such as the one in West Seneca, which she said has been more supportive of parents who want their children to opt out of testing.

Board President Marie MacKay, with her voice raised, said: “I do not believe this is punishment to have the children sit there.”

MacKay went a step further – telling parents that she will not tolerate them coming to board meetings and accusing the district of punishing their children.

“If you are not happy, then I ask that you look elsewhere,” she said. “We are the ninth-top district this year, but before you know it, we’ll be No. 1, because of the education this district provides.”

Other board members said students taking tests could easily be distracted by their peers who are not taking the tests.

“I feel it is a compromise that we are allowing children to read after testing,” said board Vice President Wendy Buchert.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com