Douglas County, Featured, Free Speech, Sherrie Peif, Transparency

Douglas County parents upset school board trying to suppress free speech

CASTLE ROCK — Douglas County School District (DCSD) parents are upset after being told by the district they will not be allowed to speak during public comment at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting if their comments are related to recent issues in the district involving the social media accounts of a middle school teacher and a school board member.

A steady stream of posts to the private Facebook group “Word of Mouth — Highland’s Ranch — uncensored,” were popping up early Thursday, saying the board secretary was calling parents to tell them they could not speak on the topic they proposed.

In the DCSD, those who wish to speak before the board must preregister and tell the board what they plan to talk about. Government bodies can set time limits and structure for public comments, however, it’s unusual for a board to attempt to suppress specific speech.

“There has to be a mechanism for this,” said Brad Wann, a parent in the district who received one of those calls on speaking out about recent Tweets from teacher Michelle Grissom and board member Kevin Leung. “The school district is scared of legal matters because they are about to get the boots sued off of them.”

Wann was referring to series of Tweets earlier this week from Grissom who misidentified a Kentucky High School student as one of the students involved in an incident in Washington caught on video Saturday that showed teens allegedly harassing a Native American man, Nathan Phillips, following a pro-life demonstration in Washington.

An extended version of the video was later released that showed a much more complicated situation that led numerous media outlets and social media commenters to make retractions or apologies for rushed criticism of the incident.

Grissom initially Tweeted out “His name is Jay Jackson. His twitter account is closed to non followers so we won’t interfere with his training in the #HitlerYouth.” After the boy’s father responded that it was not his son, Grissom pushed the issue, asking for proof, but still did not delete her Tweet even after apologizing for the mistake.

Leung used his Twitter accounts to make judgments about the students involved in the incident in Washington.

In other Tweets on the subject Grissom calls the Catholic Church a “cesspool of degenerates,” says the Catholic League should be “classified as a domestic terrorist organization,” says the Christian right is “nothing more than racist haters spreading the vitriol wherever and whenever they can. Christianity has become a religion of hate for too many and must be purged from the government for democracy to survive.” She also says of herself that she is “usually anti-hate. Usually.”

A page encouraging the district to fire Grissom went public shortly after the Tweets became public. Grissom has since deactivated her Twitter account.

She is currently on leave pending investigation by the district. It is not the first time Grissom has been involved in controversy in the district or on Twitter. She has been a vocal presence in the district for years.  She was an outspoken opponent of former Superintendent Liz Fagen and frequent contributor to the Facebook page Speak for DCSD, a community that claims to advocate on behalf of DCSD teachers, but often sparks controversy. She is also on the Douglas County Federation’s Elected Executive Board, representing Mountain Ridge Middle School for the Teacher’s Association.

She has a history of improper Tweets using foul language and hoping for the death of other people.

DCSD Board of Education President David Ray tells people at the beginning of each meeting that the board values a diverse set of comments from a broad spectrum of citizens throughout the district on any issue that impacts the educational needs of our students.

Ray also says in part: “Everyone in this room plays an important part in modeling appropriate behavior and promoting a climate of mutual respect … we want to promote a world where people speak with each other as opposed to about each other.”

The irony of Ray’s statement was not lost on Wann, who said he feels like he’s speaking to the old board all over again about First Amendment rights.

“We all should have the right to say what we need to say at this meeting,” Wann said. “This is our people’s podium. This piece of wood we are standing at, this mic, this is ours. I understand you have to have structure, but if we want to talk about mental health, or a principal or a book my kid is reading, or whatever the case may be, and I want to make it public, then that should be my right to do so.”

Complete Colorado has reached out to the school district for clarification and will update the story upon response.

 

 

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