The Common Core State Standards Initiative has created a fair bit of angst among critics who view it as a poor -- or even dangerous -- plan to amend the nation's educational schema. Considering this dynamic, it's no surprise that some concerned Florida parents are planning to protest a national Common Core conference that is slated to be hosted later this month by The Center for College & Career Readiness.
But when FreedomWorks, a non-profit organization, agreed to help these parents by providing a grassroots training to accompany their protest, the conservative organization charges that a hotel abruptly canceled its reservations. The hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, however, is denying these claims, stating that the anti-Common Core initiative's goals had nothing at all to do with the decision -- and that the decision was based on crowd-control concerns.
The activists' claim
Whitney Neal, director of grassroots initiatives at FreedomWorks, told TheBlaze that the Ritz, a hotel nearby the venue that is hosting the national Common Core conference (the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes Resort and Spa), cancelled the conservative group's reservations -- and after the group had already paid for and booked the space.
Photo Credit: FreedomWorks
While FreedomWorks was not directly running the rally that the concerned parents organized against the Common Core conference, the organization agreed to help promote it. The accompanying training event that was slated to be held at the Ritz, though, was intended to educate those individuals participating in the protest and to provide them with important information about Common Core (again, the protest was slated to be held at the nearby JW Marriott).
"When we heard about the rally they were planning, we reached out to ... the planners ... and offered to host a grassroots education and training session the morning of their event so that the people they were bringing in would have the latest information and grassroots strategies," Neal told TheBlaze in an e-mail interview. "The training was to be two hours of education on Common Core, grassroots activism training and tips, and a Q&A session."
The meeting space at the Ritz was booked last week, but Neal claims she received a call this Tuesday saying that the hotel could no longer host the training event. During the initial phone conversation with the special events coordinator, the FreedomWorks staffer claims that the Ritz asked questions about FreedomWorks' relationship with and to the Common Core conference.
From there, the events coordinator, John Hart, purportedly said that he had observed sentiment on social media that seemed to indicate that the counter events could "disrupt the sister hotel." Neal, though, claims that she tried to explain her organization's intent in an effort to temper Hart's concerns.
"I repeatedly told him that this was an educational session for moms and dads and grandparents concerned about what is happening in their kids’ schools," she noted. "I also said that the activists had no intention of disrupting the event happening at the Marriott and were just looking for a way to connect with one another, learn more, and spread the word."
Neal also reminded the special events coordinator that a contract had already been signed for the space and that the venue had been paid for. Following that gentle notice, though, she charges that Hart informed her that the contract would be ripped up and that the money would be returned.
"We never had the option to change his mind," Neal claims. "He also said that the event next door was 'very large' and they were concerned about that event being disrupted or upset by ours."
Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando (Photo Credit: AP)
Considering that the event at the Ritz would be political, Hart was purportedly concerned with direct conflict that could result from hosting a counter-event so close to the other venue.
The hotel's side of the story
But the hotel says the decision to cancel was based on safety concerns. In a separate interview with TheBlaze, Michelle Valle, a representative for both hotels, explained that the Ritz and the JW Marriott have the same owners and that they are considered part of the same resort. Thus, issues pertaining to one campus would certainly impact the other.
And according to Valle, who handles PR for both venues, partisan angst wasn't at the center of the cancellation. Instead, the spokeswoman notes that there was a serious crowd-control issue presented by the publication and advertisement of the protest on social media.
Image shows hotels' proximity to one another (Photo Credit: Google Maps)
"This particular group had an open call to the public to come to the hotel and join a rally due to a protest that they were hoping to do for another group," she explained. "There were tweets and there's a website that is open to the public, inviting anyone to join this unorganized event."
Rather than a ploy to rail against Common Core critics, Valle said that the main issue really was crowd control and that neither hotel is setup or prepared to host unpredictable crowd sizes. At the heart of the cancellation, she claims, was the "safety and security of our guests."
The format of a potentially-large protest -- one that the hotel was seemingly not informed about beforehand -- made staffers uncomfortable.
"It really has nothing to do with the content of these meetings," Valle said, informing TheBlaze that she first saw publication of the protest on social media and that tweets about it sparked internal conversations surrounding how to handle the FreedomWorks event.
To showcase that this is a problem that can happen with other events as well, she noted that the Ritz and JW Marriott have encountered similar issues with open model casting calls that offer up unpredictable crowds -- events that staffers simply aren't comfortable facilitating.
"It would have been negligent not to do something knowing ahead," Valle said of learning about the protest.
Neal, though, held that it is entirely possible that those associated with Common Core might have been behind the decision to cancel the event. She also said it's evident that Common Core proponents are intensely-focused on FreedomWorks' activities.
"We are seeing this happen around the country – the pro-Common Core group sees that citizens are aware and concerned about these standards and the surrounding requirements," she told TheBlaze. "I feel that the large convention next door was concerned about our event."