The Douglas County School District Board of Education sent a loud message to the local teachers union at its most recent meeting.
The board unanimously passed a resolution that said in part: “Teachers are professionals and approach their job in a non-partisan professional manner and should not be attacked for their professional activities—especially by other teachers and those who claim to be the leaders for those teachers.”
The resolution condemns a recent action of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) for a tweet on the social media site Twitter that compared the appearnce of a Dougco teacher to that of a male sex organ.
The unanimity of the vote was important in that it showed solidarity between the four reform members of the board and the three new members of the board, who were funded and are heavily supported by DCFT.
Although DCFT President Courtney Smith has said the Twitter account belonging to the DCFT was hacked and has since been deactivated, at least one board members finds that excuse questionable and wants Smith removed as president of the association.
“I’m not a technology savvy guy, but I do know if someone else did it they had to be sitting in the same room because they were tweeting information about the meeting contemporaneous for which it was happening,” said Doug Benevento, Director District E.
Benevento, who brought the resolution to the table, noted that if the tweet was a result of a hacker, Smith or the DCFT should have apologized to the teacher in question and launched a full investigation into the matter.
“They had the immediate responsibility to demonstrate to the public that this was not what was in their mind or heart, but they didn’t do that,” Benevento said. “This is a crime people. This isn’t school yard stuff. This is adult bullying if in fact it wasn’t a hack, and a crime if it was hacked. If it wasn’t a hack, there needs to be some serious turnover at the DCFT because whoever did it needs to be gone.”
The resolution calls for:
- A transparent and expeditious independent investigation to determine if the DCFT Twitter account was in fact hacked;
- That if the investigation determines that the DCFT account was hacked that proper law enforcement officials be notified so the perpetrator can be held accountable;
- That if the DCFT account was not hacked, the individual responsible for the tweet be held accountable and their name(s) be made public; and
- That if the DCFT account was not hacked President of the DCTF be held accountable for her lack of leadership in this matter and for creating a culture that allowed such a tweet to be sent.
Smith did not respond to request for comment from Complete Colorado. Her name was used in this story because her title was used in the full resolution, and there is only one president of the DCFT. All of that information is public record.
The tweet took place during a district accountability meeting held in January, a meeting at which Smith and fellow DCFT representative Kallie Leyba were in attendance. The DCFT account had been tweeting about the meeting when DCSD Board of Education President Meghann Silverthorn saw the tweet in question come across her Tweet Deck feed.
Tweet Deck is an extension of Twitter used on computers to have several Twitter accounts open at one time to follow simultaneously.
The tweet, which says: “DAC Meeting. (Teacher’s name) looks like a penis. And that’s not a compliment #douchebag,” was removed almost immediately, but Silverthorn took a screen shot of the tweet to preserve proof of its existence.
A few days later, Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds, DCSD board of education vice president, sent a letter to Randi Weingarten. Weingarten is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers union with which DCFT is affiliated. The letter asked for an investigation into the incident and for those responsible to be held accountable.
Weingarten’s response was less than expected by the majority board members for DCSD.
“Of course I will review, but there are many acts of the Douglas County School Board that I have found hurt children, educators and the broader community,” Weingarten said in her response.
A request from Complete Colorado for Weingarten to identify an example of something the board has done that compares to the vulgarity used in the tweet against a fellow teacher and not just a policy disagreement was not answered.
Weingarten did not respond to any questions asked by Complete Colorado in reference to this matter, including if her silence on the issue can be construed to assume she condones state leaders attacking teachers in public when the motto of the group is to support all teachers.
At first, it appeared that the resolution was going to pass 4-3 with the union-supported members, Anne-Marie Lemieux, David Ray and Wendy Vogel, voting no. But a discussion on the matter cleared up several concerns the trio had, including government overreach and naming Smith in the document.
After a discussion to replace Smith’s name with her title, calling for the perpetrator to be held accountable instead of fired, and assurance from board attorney Robert Ross that they were within their rights to pass such a resolution, the three agreed with the majority.
“In terms of stating a position, the board is free to do that, including making a request or demand of an outside agency,” Ross said. “It is not a government infringement on anyone’s rights. It’s a statement by this board that also has a right to make statements about activities.”
Lemieux appeared to support the author of the tweet, claiming First Amendment rights to free speech, and attempting to shame Silverthorn and Reynolds in public for sending Weingarten the letter without a discussion of the full board first.
Silverthorn has said several times she made it clear the letter did not represent the entire board.
“I love how this is falling into a process discussion instead of focusing on the fact that one of our teachers was slurred horribly in public, and yet some on this board are going to stand by and do nothing to stand up for that teacher and demand accountability for it,” Benevento said. “I think we not only are within our right to do this, but I think we are compelled to do it. And I don’t care if it was the [Douglas County] Federation of Teachers or the Republican Party or anybody else. We have an obligation to stand up for them. We gave the [Douglas County] Federation of Teachers the opportunities to come forward and to take ownership of this, and if they’d done that, we wouldn’t be here. We were forced to escalate this. They should be ashamed of themselves. I defy any of you to vote against this. I defy you to vote against standing up for one of your teachers.”