Hartford Schools Banning Media from Public Meetings

By , February 13, 2012 9:55 pm

Last week before Superintendent Kishimoto, Principal Sullivan, and the parents and community at Burns Latino Studies Academy had a meeting about the personnel changes, some members of the media received a message stating they would not be permitted inside. This ban was unevenly enforced, as some media were turned away and others not, despite being required to sign in. I, for one, openly took notes and asked questions after parents had a chance to do so themselves.

This event was advertised publicly in the Frog Hollow is Home Facebook group, inviting members of the community to attend. There was nothing in this notice indicating the possibility that this meeting could be closed to some individuals.

On February 13th, the Hartford Public Schools again attempted to ban the media from what was supposed to be a public event.

The School Governance Council of Classical Magnet School, along with students, their parents, and community members met tonight with Kishimoto to discuss the transfer of Sullivan out of their school.

SGC meetings are open and subject to provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. This section of FOIA states that a “meeting” does not mean:

Any meeting of a personnel search committee for executive level employment candidates; any chance meeting, or a social meeting neither planned nor intended for the purpose of discussing matters relating to official business; strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining; a caucus of members of a single political party notwithstanding that such members also constitute a quorum of a public agency; an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency; and communication limited to notice of meetings of any public agency or the agendas thereof.

It further explains that a “personnel search committee” is “a body appointed by a public agency, whose sole purpose is to recommend to the appointing agency a candidate or candidates for an executive-level employment position.”

An SGC has more than one purpose.

The Connecticut State Department of Education describes the role and responsibilities of the SGC as follows:

Additionally, FOIA states:

No registration or other requirements may be imposed on a member of the public seeking attendance at a public meeting.
The public, as well as the news media, may photograph, record or broadcast meetings, subject to prior reasonable rules regarding non-interference with the conduct of the meeting.

Kishimoto said she did not want the media present because it would make parents too afraid to ask questions, but according to FOIA, the news media may be present so long as they do not interfere with the meeting.

The news media have not been banned from all meetings at which parents may need to ask questions.

Additionally, the parents of Hartford schoolchildren, the ones who attend such meetings, are hardly of the meek and mild variety, at least when it comes to their children. If by chance they would be intimidated by the presence of news media, it is logical that they would be equally intimidated by administrators who don suits and who are perceived by some parents as putting a distance between themselves and the community.

Regardless, a School Governance Council is formed not just by parents and school staff, but also by members of the community.

These meetings were not designed for discussing concerns about individual students, so this was not a FERPA issue. Nor did these meetings occur during the school day when having the news media present might create a distraction for the youth.

When asked how the media could be banned, no suitable response was provided. Courant reporter Vanessa de la Torre was told by Assistant Corporation Counsel Kaufmann that she could get the actual FOI exemption on Tuesday morning, conveniently after the meeting had ended.

Before smartphones, laptops, and tablets, such a ban on news media might have meant something.

Today?

This merely encourages members of the community to demand transparency from public agencies by posting photos, audio, and video of such events and letting the viral nature of social media take over from there. Community members attending tonight’s meeting used Twitter to publicize what was being said in a public building by officials whose salaries are funded through public dollars.

Unless there is a plan to force all meeting attendees to hand over their wireless devices, the Hartford Schools may want to reconsider such bans as they are impossible to enforce and suggest something is being hidden.

So, what needed to be kept under wraps at Classical Magnet School?

For starters, not everyone in the city is joyous about the transfer of Principal Sullivan from there to Burns.

The students of Classical Magnet, as well as their parents are some of these people. Many students and parents spoke out on Monday evening, indicating that a trust had been broken. Some demanded to know how they could trust that Kishimoto would not remove their next principal in a similar fashion. Councilman Kennedy, speaking as a father, said that the decision to remove Sullivan from Classical and place him at Burns was “not made in collaboration.” Even school staff expressed resentment about how they received mere hours of notice about this major shift in personnel.

The lack of transparency with parents, students, and staff seems equal to the lack of transparency with the news media, who to date have not received any press release about the shift in leadership at Classical Magnet School and Burns Latino Studies Academy.

Inquiries to the Hartford Public Schools about the legality of banning the media received no response before the meeting ended on Monday evening.

UPDATE: 15 Feb 2012: Two days after the meeting, HPS admit they erred.

10 Responses to “Hartford Schools Banning Media from Public Meetings”

  1. EmGee says:

    Unacceptable. Period. Thanks for reporting on this.

  2. River Brandon says:

    the handling of these meetings and and the issue of sullivan’s transfer is disgraceful, and shows a clear lack of awareness of good community relations practices. i hope the boe will take up the issue and work with kishimoto to establish a more open and transparent approach to school management. these decisions are clearly being made out of fear that there will be some kind of negative backlash, but there’s more than a whiff of coverup, and any public official that doesn’t understand that the coverup is always worse *has not been paying attention*.

    beyond barring the media from these meetings, has the issue of *why* sullivan was transferred been clearly addressed? because i think the school communities have a right to an honest explanation. from what i hear, they’re not getting it. i think there’s some very poor management going on in the school district, and kishimoto is still brand new. playing these kind of games is unacceptable, and this does not bode well for the future.

    thanks for the excellent coverage, and please keep digging into this. as a parent of children in the hartford schools, i am disappointed by the quality of leadership on display right now, and trust in the institution is being undermined. our children and communities deserve the highest level of integrity and honesty in the operation of the schools. i don’t expect anyone to handle everything perfectly, but when honest mistakes or changes are made that affect entire schools, the community deserves an honest accounting of what’s going on.

    • I am hearing from many unsatisfied teachers in the system who cannot comment publicly because they fear job loss.

      Thanks to those who are able to speak openly about this.

  3. Luis says:

    Firstly, I agree 100% with what Emgee wrote above “Unacceptable. Period”

    I do want to state for the record that the invite by Ms. Ginanatta on the FB group was not from an “official” school official. She works for COMPASS at Burns and was helping to get the word out.

    I was also asked to get the word out. David Medina called and asked me to help get the word out to parents due to the lateness of the meeting. He specifically mentioned the Facebook group. Now I know there are zero Frog Hollow parents in our Frog Hollow Facebook group so instead I called my sis at the local library branch and asked her to spread the word.

    Medina was specific to wanting parents. I was surprised to hear that Vanessa over at the Courant was not let in at Burns.

    One would think that the school system would learn the lesson after a week. But then they send an email stating specifically that no press would be admitted…shakin my friggin head.

    I’m pointing this out to say whether or not Elizabeth put something out on Facebook is not the issue. The issue is that a meeting was held and the press was singled out as an entity that could not attend.

    And I won’t even get started at how Burns parents get a day and a halfs notice on a meeting and Classical gets a week.

    • Elizabeth has indicated that when she was informed of the meeting, nobody indicated to her that the meeting was only for parents. She merely performed her job.

      Additionally, at the Burns meeting, Sullivan was very welcoming to members of the community.

      • Luis says:

        That’s cool, I just think it’s irrelevant whether an “invite” was made or not. There was a meeting, and if you found out about it through maria at the bakery as you bought a scone and wanted to go, you should have been allowed in. That did not happen.

  4. Ellis Dee says:

    What did they pay mr. Medina to write that note. He is a waste of taxpayer money

    • Chris says:

      As far as I know, Mr. Medina is the only HPS official thus far who has made any statement correcting this cynical and deliberate misstep on the part of Kishimoto and company. Communicating is what he’s supposed to do, of course, so I’m not going to fall over myself congratulating him for simply doing his job. That said, I don’t see him as the root of the much more troubling problems here.

      The people giving the orders and trying to distort and control what information gets out are further up in the hierarchy. It’s pretty plain to see they are not being honest and forthright with the people of Hartford. It is these well-compensated officials that are the biggest waste of taxpayer money.

  5. [...] You can read about the controversy here. [...]


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