Jeffco School Reform Foes Delete, Rather Than Confront, Challenging Facts
By Ben DeGrow
Antagonists of the new Jefferson County school board airbrushed facts and reasonable opinions that conflict with their agenda, despite their repeated pleas for the board to provide more transparency and public input.
In particular, the administrators of the Jeffco Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Facebook page deleted multiple comments and banned postings from individuals who presented facts to dispute arguments PTA president Michele Patterson made in a Denver Post YourHub column.
Patterson wrote the May 30 column in response to the Jeffco board’s decision to declare Dan McMinimee as sole finalist for the district’s superintendent position. Ironically titled “Public cut out of Jeffco Public Schools superintendent hiring process,” the lengthy column overlooked the fact that the previous Jeffco superintendent was hired with one closed-door board session and no public input, as opposed to two meet-and-greet events and 45 minutes of public comment for McMinimee.
McMinimee, a Jeffco resident and father of students in Jeffco schools, most recently has served as assistant superintendent for secondary instruction in Douglas County schools. To make the case against his selection, Patterson included a series of claims about declining standards and achievement in Douglas County. Among her claims she alleged that Dougco students suffer from a loss of instructional time, that significant funds have been transferred from high schools to administrative coffers, and that the current reform-minded school board reduced graduation standards.
Becky Barnes, a mother of Dougco students and member of the District Accountability Committee, posted relevant achievement data and explanations to challenge the case Patterson made, both on YourHub and on the Jeffco PTA Facebook page.
Barnes’ comment was removed from both sites. No explanation was available for why the comment disappeared twice from a page administered by the Denver Post. But by taking the comment down from its Facebook page, the Jeffco PTA apparently didn’t want more eyes to see Barnes’ challenging factual presentation.
She wasn’t alone. Two other Douglas County residents, Laura Jensen and Jason Phillips, shared similar comments challenging Patterson’s assessment of their school district. They were likewise expunged:
The author of this column befell the same fate for observing in the thread the strange effect created by deleting Barnes’ comment yet leaving responses to Barnes’ comment online. “Clearly, Jeffco PTA and Brian White are responding to one or more comments made by Becky Barnes,” I wrote. “What happened to her comment and the facts she introduced? Perhaps we might even see that many of the key points she raised were not addressed.” Now you see it.
To the Jeffco PTA’s credit, Barnes’ identical comment reposted by John Ewing on June 3 remained on the page for viewing — at least as of press time. [Update, 6/4: Jeffco PTA also has removed Ewing’s comments, continuing the censorship trend.] Meanwhile, Barnes was rebuffed and censored by Jefferson County School Board Watch (JCSBW), which bills itself as “a group of people who are very concerned about the direction the Jefferson County School Board has taken since the November 2013 elections.”
Echoing themes published in Patterson’s column, JCSBW posted a review of the upcoming school board agenda under the title “Will WNW Finally Let People Speak?” (WNW is the opponents’ designation of reform-minded board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams.) The post is headed by an illustration of a man gagged so he cannot speak, and a snarky remark about keeping “WNW up past their bedtime.”
JCSBW’s site administrator notes:
We have prohibited people from posting on our Facebook site and this Blog when their actions are deceptive, bullying, disrespectful, or simply unthinking and repeated ranting. They may have the right to shout. We have the right to choose not to listen to them.
On June 2 Victoria Lierheimer — a veteran educator and Newkirk’s sister — was banned from the JCSBW Facebook page. Page administrators allege that she was attacking some of their members. Lierheimer says she was pressing for answers on charges made that Newkirk and his colleagues somehow had broken the law. She was astonished at the hypocrisy of her banishment, especially given the group’s complaints that the board has been “limiting free speech.”
“I have taught all of my children to listen to opposing viewpoints with respect, and the rabidity of this response is revealing,” she posted on her Facebook page.
A Twitter exchange in which Patterson and Jeffco PTA vice president Shawna Fritzler joked about using gun violence against Williams drew unfavorable media attention back in February. In an act of self-censorship, the offensive Tweets were later removed.
Ben DeGrow is senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute, as well as a Jeffco public charter school parent and board member.