We wrote two weeks ago about an ugly and perhaps legally actionable incident that occurred at the May meeting of the conservative-controlled Jefferson County Board of Education. A complaint from Jeffco parent Wendy McCord the following day asked for an investigation of the displaying of a Jeffco student’s name on the overhead projector at this public board meeting, and board President Ken Witt accusing the 17-year-old student in question of “favoriting racial epithets at district leaders”–an apparent reference to an anonymous Tweet that is it turns out isn’t “racist” at all. From McCord’s complaint:
All administrators, teachers, and classified staff who witness student bullying in any such circumstance shall immediately take appropriate action to stop the bullying, as prescribed by the district and building principal, and shall promptly report the bullying to the principal or principal’s designee for appropriate action. (Policy JBC)
That it is the Board members who continue to endanger our students and staff is of no relevance. You are OBLIGATED to act to ensure the safe learning environment required by CRS 22-32.109.1(1.5). The Colorado legislature enacted this statute because of their commitment to “a learning environment that is safe, conducive to the learning process, and free from unnecessary disruption.” I am quite certain that the legislators never truly considered that it would be the Board Members themselves from whom students needed to be kept safe. But that doesn’t change the spirit and letter of the law. Nor does it change your obligation to protect our students.
I demand that a formal investigation be undertaken in connection with Witt’s behavior and comments, and that prompt and equitable remedial action be taken to deter future bullying and harassment and to remedy the effects on the victim(s) of Witt’s bullying behavior. Such actions should include “[h]olding training and inservices to assist [the board] in being alert to student bullying, taking appropriate action when bullying occurs, and helping to engender an atmosphere where bullying is not tolerated at school or school-related activities.”
Here’s the bottom line: social media has become a central communications hub for opposition to the conservative Jeffco board majority, and on several occasions, social media organizing and communication has resulted in extremely embarrassing situations for the school board–from the #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory hashtag that went viral globally after Julie Williams’ disastrous AP History “review” proposal to Williams more recent linking to a hate group’s protest of the LGBT Day of Silence endorsed by the district. In response to these incidents, the team of paid communications consultants hired by Jeffco Communications Office Lisa Pinto has vigorously responded with a proxy campaign through local conservative blogs and social media–like the recent “Mean Girls” website from the right-wing Independence Institute, seeking to turn the anger on social media at the Jeffco school board into a sympathy ploy.
It appears that in the interest of “defending” the board majority from such criticism, Pinto and even elected members of the school board went on the hunt to identify persons to blame, discovering this minor student who had “favorited”–not even “Retweeted,” mind you, just “favorited”–a few Tweets critical of Pinto and the board majority. Emails forwarded to us from a recent Colorado Open Records Act request appear to be a “smoking gun,” setting up the incident that transpired later that evening between board chairman Ken Witt and the minor student in question:
In the end, it doesn’t matter if this minor student “favorited” a Tweet. It wouldn’t matter if he or she was the original author of the Tweet that offended the board majority. That minor student is still entitled to protection from intimidation and bullying–and that includes bullying by a board member during a public board meeting.
Elected school board members have no business intimidating children. Period.
In respond to McCord’s complaint, the district has taken action to investigate whether a violation of its policies occurred–sent to McCord a week ago by Craig Hess, chief legal counsel for Jeffco Public Schools:
Jeffco Schools has received your concern and will conduct a timely inquiry into your allegation that a Board of Education member violated our policies. We will notify you when we have completed our inquiry. In accordance with our policies, we normally conclude all inquiries within 20 working days however; we will work diligently to complete our process by May 22, 2015. We will provide you a second correspondence once we have concluded our inquiry.
Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. Please be assured that the Jeffco Schools is committed to the conducting a thorough inquiry into these allegations.
Two days later on May 14th, another Jeffco parent received this response from Hess:
I wanted to provide you an update regarding your concern that a Board of Education member violated our policies. To examine this concern, we have determined it would be prudent to hire an objective, third party to conduct an investigation. [Pols emphasis] District personnel are currently in the process of securing the services of an outside investigator. Once this process has been completed, this investigator will be reaching out to you.
As you can see in the first reply from the district’s legal counsel, the original goal was to have this investigation completed by May 22nd–that’s today. But it’s not known as of now whether the decision to bring in an outside investigator will result in a further delay, and when or if the results of this investigation will be made public. Sources tell us the decision to bring in an outside investigator is a significant validator that this complaint is not frivolous, but still not a guarantee of a fair process.
Whatever happens, we’ll update–and the Jeffco parents leading the charge for accountability here will as well.