Via Instapundit — blogger Sean Sorrentino attended this morning’s emergency school board meeting in Lee County, NC, and wrote up a great blog report of what transpired. It’s worth your time. Basics: The board met, went into executive decision to “preserve the attorney client privilege,” and emerged 41 minutes later to issue this statement:
The Lee County Board of Education is legally prohibited from releasing details and commenting on this student discipline matter further. The Board, however, contends strenuously that the related television and newspaper articles are inaccurate and that all relevant laws and board policies were adhered to and followed. Additional information will have to be obtained from the District Attorney and the Sanford Police Department. The Board, however, will be glad to comment further on this matter if the student and her parents will provide the Lee County Board of Education a written release of the school records.
If the press reports are really inaccurate, the school district should spell out exactly where. This statement, crafted in all likelihood by the school system’s lawyers, insults the media and the intelligence of just about everyone who has looked into this case. That is awful crisis communications strategy.
They probably spent all or most of their 41 minutes behind closed doors drafting that statement, which tells me that their decision to do nothing constructive in their “emergency” meeting was baked in ahead of time. Did they plan this via email or phone calls prior to the public minutes of the meeting? It sure looks like it.
The implied threat to the Smithwick family came after the meeting, when the officials stayed around to speak with the press;
When the discussion arose about the Smithwicks providing a written release, the Superintendent said that he would not, in their place, give a release to the press, because he would not want the press to be rooting around in his child’s records. That struck me as an implied threat. Don’t sign a release, or we’ll plaster every little detail of her records all over the news. That mischaracterizes the nature of a release. A parent and student may release all, some, or none of her records to anyone she chooses.
Take this, plus the way the school has implied that Ashley isn’t really suspended — she just can’t come to school — plus the way the superintendent’s first statement slyly brought the marijuana issue into this story, and we seem to be seeing a school district leadership playing word games to make the student look bad, and thereby themselves look better. That’s not working, folks.
The school district, from its school board on down, has taken several steps that they will all in all likelihood come to regret. Those steps are:
1. The decision to suspend Ashley in the first place.
2. The decision to increase her suspension, extending it through the rest of the school year.
3. The superintendent’s press release on Wednesday, in which he mischaracterized the lunch box, and in which he obfuscated about whether Ashley was suspended or not, and whether she is allowed on campus or not. She has shown local media the contract banning her from campus, while the school dances around with a “meaning of ‘is'” approach that is just making the situation worse.
4. Meeting behind closed doors, then issuing a useless but heavily lawyered press release, which now puts the entire school board behind the superintendent and the principal.
5. Implying to the press that a release of Ashley’s records would hurt her or her family.
6. Saying that press accounts are “inaccurate,” but not spelling out where the inaccuracies are, which will only make the media more hostile going forward. Frankly, I’m surprised the local press hasn’t already decided to go full hostile after now two statements have implied that they, the reporters on the story, are incompetent.
Throughout all of this, we still have not heard directly from the principal, Bonnie Almond, who made the decision that triggered all of this. I spoke with Sean Sorrentino earlier today, and after I emailed him a picture of the principal, he didn’t recognize her as having been at today’s meeting. He couldn’t rule her presence out, of course, but did say that she wasn’t acknowledged and did not speak at the meeting. Why have we not heard from Almond? If she was not at today’s meeting, where was she?
I don’t know and I’m not going to guess where she is and why we haven’t heard from her. But it’s curious, to say the least, that the public servant who made the decision to suspend Miss Smithwick has not stepped out to defend her decision personally. She owes the public that much, at least.
The school board met, said nothing, made no decision, and kicked the can down the road. This isn’t over yet, by a long shot.