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.