Tensions ran high at the Jan. 24 Douglas County Board of Education meeting, when Douglas County deputies escorted a man off the podium during public comment for breaking policy.
The man had referred by name to the Douglas County teacher who was placed on paid leave in connection with controversial social media posts. That was against the rules for public comment, according to the school board.
Board members interrupted and reminded the man to refrain from using names, but he continued to talk.
Some concerned community members who planned to address the teacher's Twitter posts during public comment at the board meeting were contacted by the district hours before and told they could not use specific names. The man who was ushered away by deputies, however, was not contacted by the board. He had signed up to provide comment regarding the agenda item, "Unofficial BOE Minutes," according to school board President David Ray.
The district's policy on public participation at board meetings states "the board desires to hear the diverse viewpoints from a broad spectrum of citizens throughout the district on any issue that impacts the educational needs of students... It is the Board of Education’s policy not to hear, in public session, personal complaints against any district personnel."
Citizens are encouraged to contact the teacher, school principal or superintendent first with questions or concerns, particularly those questions of a factual nature, the policy says. The full version is available at is available at https://bit.ly/2CPBNps.
During public comment at a Jan. 8 school board, a woman used the name of an executive director of a Douglas County charter school. She also held up a sign referencing the director. Ray reminded the woman to refrain from using specific names.
"After this reminder, she was allowed to continue her comments because she acknowledged that she understood my request," Ray said in an email. "I did not ask her to step away from the podium nor ask her to cease speaking because she appropriately responded to the reminders."
The board faced backlash from some community members on the policy, which some people say limits free speech.
"No one knows the inner workings of a school district better than a school board. So a parent should be able to go to their representative and present an issue," Brad Wann, a parent from Highlands Ranch, said in a Facebook message. "Nowhere (in the policy) does it say you could be removed for saying someone's name."
Superintendent Thomas Tucker addressed the matter near the end of the Jan. 24 meeting. He emphasized that personnel matters cannot be publicly discussed, as it puts the district at risk for a lawsuit.
"Sometimes we have to make tough decisions to protect the district from vulnerability. I think that’s what we did tonight. It was very uncomfortable, I have to say, because we certainly have always wanted to hear from our public. But as soon as individual names are mentioned, they are making us vulnerable to possible litigation, for defamation, for slander."
Gary Colley, a retired Douglas County teacher, has regularly attended board meetings since 2010. During public comment, he said, he's brought concerns to the board "many times" without using names.
"You can address your concerns, just do it properly," Colley said. “Things get resolved — it's just not attacking anyone in the process.”
— Alex DeWind
A Douglas County teacher is on paid leave after screenshots of controversial Twitter posts went viral.
Michelle Grissom, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Highlands Ranch, apologized for the tweets in an email on Jan. 25.
On Jan. 20, a tweet by Grissom called out a Kentucky student, claiming he participated in a controversial rally in Washington, D.C., over the weekend that made national headlines. The post referred to the student as training to be part of the “Hitler Youth.”
The student she mentioned by name, however, was not actually at the rally.
Grissom — whose Twitter account has since been deleted — also served on the local teachers' union. Kallie Leyba, president of Douglas County Federation, confirmed that Grissom resigned from her position on the union's executive board the morning of Jan. 23. Leyba said she could not further comment on the matter due to the union's policy on personnel issues.
On Jan. 25, Grissom emailed an apology to the family of the boy she mentioned in the tweet, a statement she also sent to media outlets. Leyba verified that the email account belongs to Grissom. In her statement, Grissom expressed remorse for her actions and for not making a public apology sooner.
"I would like to formally apologize for tweets I posted on Saturday, 1/20... I have not been able to make statements or comment on the matter, but I need for you to know how repentant I am about what happened," the statement says. "As an educator, I care deeply for children and would never want to cause harm."
When Colorado Community Media responded to the email, Grissom replied that she has no further comment and directed questions to the Douglas County Federation.
Videos from the D.C. rally show a group of students — many wearing red, "Make America Great Again" hats — from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, hollering and cheering school chants while an Indigenous Peoples March took place. One of the students drew national attention by standing face-to-face with a Native American, who was playing a drum during the march.
The Kentucky students were in D.C. for a March for Life anti-abortion rally.
After Grissom's tweet that called out the student by name, the youth's father responded to the post, stating that his son had been traveling for a basketball game at the time of the rally. The father asked Grissom to remove the post.
After a chain of tweets back and forth, Grissom apologized to the family for misidentifying a “racist and disrespectful student.” The student's father went on to call Grissom's behavior “totally abhorrent” and her actions “inexcusable.”
In an email to parents on Jan. 21, Shannon Clarke, principal of Mountain Ridge Middle School, addressed the matter.
“I have been made aware of comments on social media that involve a member of the MRMS community," Clarke wrote. "We are addressing this situation, as appropriate. If you have questions or concerns specific to your student, please contact me.”
Clarke sent another email to parents on Jan. 23, confirming that "Michelle Grissom is currently on leave" and ensuring a smooth transition for students. A substitute teacher would be in the classroom as needed, Clarke wrote in the email.
The district declined to provide further details.
The district's policy on social media encourages employees to be thoughtful about what they post online and to avoid using statements, photos, videos or audio that could be viewed as malicious, unprofessional or threatening. The full policy is listed in the district's employee guide, under the tab “Social Media.”
Through social media, dozens of Douglas County parents have raised concerns about Grissom and the Twitter incident. Many have publicly demanded Grissom be fired or sued.
Some social media users have backed Grissom, commending her teaching style.
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