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June 12, 2015 07:56 AM MDT

Witt, McMinimee Defend Bullying Of Minor Jeffco Student

  • by: Colorado Pols
Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.
Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

The controversy over an ugly incident at the May meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education, in which a minor Jeffco student’s name was projected on a large screen while board member Ken Witt accused the student of “favoriting” “racial epithets about district staff,” came to a head at last night’s board meeting. The allegation wasn’t true, but even if it was, it was highly inappropriate for Witt, assisted by fellow board member John Newkirk and now-outgoing communications director Lisa Pinto, to call out a 17-year-old student by name in this manner. That the allegation was bogus in addition arguably makes the incident even worse.

In the video clip above, recorded at last night’s board meeting, minority board member Lesley Dahlkemper calls out Witt during a discussion of district confidentiality policies. The response she gets, both from Witt and Jeffco Schools superintendent Dan McMinimee, can only be described as deeply unsettling. Transcript:

WITT: Ms. Dahlkemper.

DAHLKEMPER: And, uh, I have a question about #6, failure to protect confidential information. We had an incident at one of our recent board meetings where, uh, the board had requested that a Facebook posting be placed on the screen that involved a minor. Can you talk to us about how we prevent those kinds of incidents from happening in the future, or just awareness in terms of the board about how we handle those kinds of issues?

MCMINIMEE: Well for me, I think that’s something that you probably need to discuss…

(Laughter from audience)

MCMINIMEE: In terms of what happened in the district, um, I think you’ll recall we had some confidential postings on Facebook or somewhere around some of the hiring procedures that we had here, so we are looking at how we can tighten that up and have people that are being hired into our system have the reasonable assurance that those are confidential discussions that are happening, and that documents from that will not be released through the addition of a signoff during those conversations. So we’re having those about how we gather what happens within the organization. I think the piece you’re referencing is a conversation amongst you all.

DAHLKEMPER: And I think, I think that’s, I think that’s a point well taken, I think that’s good advice for this board moving forward in terms of ensuring that we keep confidential, uh, minors, which is part of our work in terms of protecting kids.

WITT: I think it’s particularly important that we not, uh, consider a Facebook post confidential information, when we choose to make them public.

DAHLKEMPER: Uh, Mr. Witt, we’re talking about a 17-year-old minor, uh, thank you.

WITT: And a Facebook post. (unintelligible)

DAHLKEMPER: A 17-year-old minor. As board members we are elected officials, and we’re here to serve and protect children. Just a reminder. [Pols emphasis]

(Audience breaks into loud sustained applause)

WITT: Thank you.

As you can see, McMinimee is asked about the public shaming of a minor student at the May board meeting. But McMinimee doesn’t respond to Dahlkemper’s question directly, saying only that her question was “a conversation amongst you all.” Instead, McMinimee launches into a discussion of keeping “hiring procedures” confidential–an obvious reference to the material we published about the questionable process that resulted in the hiring of Lisa Pinto. The plain inference here is that the leaking of material about Pinto justified the actions taken by Witt against this minor student–or at least were considered to be linked enough to serve as a retort when asked about that incident.

Folks, this is totally unacceptable.

The information we published about Pinto, which included resume discrepancies and the judgment that she was less qualified than other applicants for the job, in no way justifies how this minor student was treated by the board majority. We haven’t seen the results of the outside investigation reportedly underway after last month’s incident, but to attempt even obliquely to justify what happened at the May board meeting with anything related to Lisa Pinto’s hiring (or departure) is just fundamentally wrong. Is it possible that the “bunker mentality” among the board majority has become so pervasive that everyone–students, teachers, this blog–is lumped together into some kind of catch-all group of “enemies?”

If this is really the state of things in Jefferson County, this board needs to go. McMinimee needs to go.

Now, not later.


9 thoughts on “Witt, McMinimee Defend Bullying Of Minor Jeffco Student

  1. While I'm all willing to hump the leg that is the DougCo Jeffco school board, I have another interpretation: Mini Me was responding to the question by saying that the board needed to discuss the issue with the student, but the operational reason that led the item to be included was the release of what he believed to be confidential hiring information.

    I think he should be more of an advocate for students against bullying by the board, but he's right that a board member drove the public shaming of the student, and the board needs to duke that out.  I see cowardice rather than justification.

    My take could be objectively wrong, but I'm reluctant to gin up the outrage machine by making tenuous connections that can distract from the actual tragedies in that district.

    1. I couldn't disagree more. McMinimee absolutely has a duty to the students. And to pivot to the Pinto thing when he was directly asked about the student is to link the two events. Period. McMinimee hand picked Pinto. He may be mad about her being outed as incompetent, but that's no excuse to give the board a pass for bullying a student.

  2. The Board members are supposed to be the grownups in the room. It really does seem as though McMinimee was advocating an immature "Your side did it first, so we're justified in retaliating", and involving a student.  

    It highlights how the Jeffco BoE has strayed from its primary mission – to "provide a quality education that prepares all students for a successful future."

     Superintendant Mcminimee was a teacher, a coach and a school administrator – he should and does know better than to drag a kid into an adult dispute. Yet he did it anyway. They just need to focus on kids and education, not politics. 


  3. I agree with Progressicat. After all, what real authority does McMinimee have over the board? None. There is an internal investigation going on (and I've wondered if perhaps *that's* the reason Pinto chose to resign) but only the BOE can censure other board members. Unless I miss my guess, McMinimee would prefer that everyone settle down about tweets and FB posts, which is a fair enough position (whether or not I agree). And Pinto's email was to Newkirk and other BOE members. I don't remember if McMinimee was copied on it, but it also seems to be very clear that Pinto was essentially hired because of a couple of board members and felt perfectly comfortable conversing directly with them. (While we're at it, I doubt that McMinimee picked Pinto.  I think he was directed to hire her. I'd like to jump on the train that is convinced he's the evil mastermind behind decisions like Pinto, but frankly, I don't see it. Witt and Newkirk have nothing else to do all day, whereas McMinimee really does have a big job that takes up his time. I don't think he micromanages these things, but we know two board members who do.)

    I hold Witt and the lawyers accountable. McMinimee should have jumped in, then, but on the other hand, it was 2 am by all accounts. And yes, I'd like to see McMinimee be more of a crusader, but I don't think he is. He's someone who's gotten by by not ruffling too many feathers. 

    What we do need is a major lawsuit that would at least scare the district's lawyers into jumping in. They, at least, would be cautious enough to deal with this if litigation is involved. Speaking of which, did anyone watch Brad MIller jump in at least twice yesterday during Kopp's public comment because it wasn't agenda-related? Nice to see my tax dollars working in my favor for the second or third time since he's been hired. And Miller jumped in again to suggest that the new policies Witt was suggesting needed a second reading at a subsequent meeting! I was in awe that someone they hired actually thought they needed to follow their own rules.

  4. What Newkirk, Witt and Pinto did was inexcusable. However, Terry Elliott & Dan McMinimee had prior notice of what Newkirk and Pinto were up to, and they did nothing. I am sick & tired of hearing that Dan reports to the BOE, so he has to do what they want. Not true. They hired him & they can fire him. But he has independent obligations – spelled out in a variety of laws & policies, including the bullying prevention policy. It requires that District staff (teachers, admin, etc.) take affirmative steps to stop any bullying they see.

    Dan uses the excuse that the BOE acts for themselves far too often. It is perfectly within his role, and in fact is required by his role, to tell the BOE that they are out of line. And that's true whether the BOE is acting badly towards students, teachers or the community. A REAL superintendent would do that. This guy is a hired gun with no independent thought processes whatsoever. 

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