Douglas County, Education, Media

Policy from DougCo schools deeply undermines accuracy of KMGH Ch 7 report

KMGH reporter Mark Boyle, reporting from Ponderosa High School
KMGH reporter Mark Boyle, reporting from Ponderosa High School

KMGH Channel 7 is standing by a story in which the underpinning fact is probably wrong. After Complete Colorado produced evidence to KMGH News Director Lindsay Radford and asked for a correction, Radford said, “I’ve read your note and we stand by our story.”

The story in question aired April 25 by reporter Mark Boyle, was headlined, “Access of two Douglas County school board members to student at Ponderosa raises security questions.” (Note: this is the original wording. The headline was later changed by removing the word ‘security.’)

The online version of the story still states, “We found no policy that addresses how school board members are allowed to interact with students during school hours.”

At time marker 1:28 of the video, which is still available online, Mr. Boyle also says, “We looked into district policy and found nothing that addresses how board members are allowed to interact with students during school hours.”

However, there was a policy in place.

The policy was created in 1978, and revised in 2000 and 2009.

The results of a recently released independent investigation say that not only was a policy in place, but the results also appear to suggest the two board members who went to Ponderosa High School for a meeting with a student planning a protest followed every available written protocol.

KMGH was first made aware of the existence of the school visitors policy just two days after the report was aired and published when Ross Izard, an education policy analyst at the Independence Institute,* emailed Radford and Boyle.

Now with the release of the independent investigation into a closed-door meeting between activist-student Grace Davis and Douglas County Board of Education members Meghann Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds, there’s scarcely a doubt that the assertions made in the KMGH report are false.

For example, page 24 of 45 in the report states, “This policy (KI) expressly includes Board members within the limited class of individuals having open access to schools within the District,” (emphasis included in the report).

Also from the report:

“We also considered the allegation that Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds violated protocol by failing to give school administrators advanced warning of their meeting with Ms. (Davis). It appears that the Directors followed the applicable policy by signing in at the front desk, reporting to the school office upon arrival, and obtaining Mr. Haggerty’s authorization to visit other parts of the building. See (KI). In addition, the Board members wore their credentials identifying themselves as members of the Board.”

The errors have been allowed to linger on thedenverchannel.com for almost two months, thereby possibly tarnishing the reputation of those persons covered in the story, or tarnishing the reputation of the district or district administration.

In the E.W. Scripps Company Code of Ethics, employees are encouraged to give “print or broadcast exposure for a correction that is as equal as possible to the exposure given to the inaccuracy.” KMGH is a Scripps-owned station.

The original story from Boyle was edited slightly after it was initially published.

The original version of the story stated, “The two school board members were able to walk into a school and meet with a student behind closed doors without being questioned by the school’s administration. That begs the question, why were they granted special access to a meeting room so easily when other members of the public have to undergo rigorous security screenings?”

The online version that exists as of publishing time does not indicate that edits were made.

POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST

Complete Colorado has also learned that Mr. Boyle’s wife is a teacher in the district.

In the one-sentence response provided to Complete Colorado by email, Radford did not address any questions regarding the potential conflict of interest, including questions about whether or not KMGH could simply disclose the circumstances in future reports.

It’s entirely possible that the situation in no way impedes Boyle’s ability to be fair and impartial, as conflicts of interest are rarely cut-and-dried situations.

For over a decade, Al Tompkins has been a senior fellow with the Poynter Institute, which provides journalism analysis and ongoing education for professional journalists. He said disclosing information about circumstances that could even be perceived as a conflict of interest is almost always the preferable option.

“As a matter of normal protocol, if a reporter is reporting on a story in which he or she has a vested interest, then disclosing that vested interest is always preferable to not disclosing it,” Tompkins said by phone. “It just allows the user, viewer, reader to process the information. It doesn’t necessarily disqualify the reporter from reporting on it, it depends on how closely associated the person is.”

“Certainly, even when there is the possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest, in can undercut what is otherwise fair and useful reporting, so why risk that?” Tompkins added.

*Mr. Izard is employed by the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank which (in part) advocates for solutions to school achievement such as school choice. The author of this article, Mr. Todd Shepherd, is also employed at the Independence Institute.

Note: The independent investigation refers to the meeting policy as K1. Complete Colorado has confirmed the name of the policy is KI.



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