Note: This is the fourth in Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif’s series of “Know before you go” stories, breaking down the arguments presented by a group of Jefferson County residents seeking to recall three members of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education. In this story, we report that Ken Witt was exonerated of any wrong doing in a harassment claim by an independent third party. Read part one of the series here, part two here and part three here.
Complete Colorado has learned that Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt, Superintendent Dan McMinimee, and legal counsel Craig Hess were exonerated from any wrong doing over an incident at a board meeting in May that involved a Jeffco student, and allegations of bullying.
Complete Colorado obtained a copy of an email sent by the district’s chief school effectiveness officer, Terry Elliott, to Wendy McCord, one of three Jeffco residents who initiated a recall process against board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams. The July 16 letter summarized the findings of Flynn Investigations Group, a subsidiary Employment Matters LLC, concerning the alleged harassment, bullying and violation of privacy laws of a Jeffco student.
According to its website, Flynn is a Denver-based company that works with schools to execute investigations that are “prompt, impartial, and thorough to support informed decision making regarding remedial action or sanctions.”
As part of the investigation, Flynn interviewed all the parties involved, including the student and her parents. Video footage of the meeting was also reviewed. After reviewing all the evidence, Flynn determined the complaints were unfounded.
“The question becomes, did Mr. Witt’s actions rise to the level of severity to be clearly identified as bullying, and if so, should individuals from the district in attendance at the meeting, including Mr. McMinimee and Mr. Hess, have intervened to stop Mr. Witt’s actions?” the email says. “The investigator determined that Mr. Witt’s comments did not ‘rise to the level of severity contemplated under the policy,’ Therefore, Mr. McMinimee and Mr. Hess did not fail to intervene on behalf of the student.”
McCord filed the complaint after the May 7 meeting claiming that Witt bullied a female student and violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by identifying the student. The report specifically noted that FERPA rights could not have been violated because the writings of the student discussed at the board meeting were published on a “public social media site.”
District policy defines bullying as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental or emotional harm to any student.”
The district also prohibits harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation or disability.
Flynn concluded that there was “no indication that his attention to the issue was in any way related to a protected status of a student.”
Although the investigator did not find that district staff or Witt violated board policies or FERPA, the email said the Elliott views this as an opportunity to “reflect and learn in order to better serve the Jeffco schools.”
“The district will recommend that the Board of Education reflect on the events of the evening and recommend they develop a common practice for addressing concerns related to student behavior,” Elliott said in the email.
The complaint cost the district more than $4,000 to investigate.
Neither McCord or Jeffco United spokeswoman Lynea Hanson returned requests for comment from Complete Colorado.