March 2015 Editorial Winner

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Barb Walter, The Hennessey Clipper

The Hennessey Board of Education wants a copy of an Okla. State Bureau of Investigation report about alleged sexual conduct of a male coach with a female student athlete that was reported to police then turned over to the OSBI Dec. 22.
Three months ago.
Welcome to the world of journalists and the waiting game.
The OSBI handed over its findings to the district attorney Jan. 27.
DA Mike Fields issued a news release March 6 that “there is not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges related to these matters.”
Case closed
In that release, the DA said it’s “important to remember that not all inappropriate conduct
is illegal conduct.”
Inappropriate conduct!
Case not closed
How inappropriate?
We don’t know, but we do know that the evidence includes inappropriate texts from the coach/teacher to a student.
The DA also gave the school board a shot in his news release when he said: “I want to encourage the Hennessey School Board to conduct its own review of these matters to determine whether the school’s administrators and/or employees may have failed to meet their responsibilities to the citizens of Hennessey.”
Case definitely not closed
Sounds as if school personnel messed up, and didn’t handle the school’s investigation into alleged sexual misconduct. Ditto on the bullying that parents had gone to school officials about, and addressed the entire school board in two open meetings, then went to the local police again.
Mothers of three high school girls complained at Jan. and Feb. board meetings that their girls were bullied by other students.
Apparently this all goes back to inappropriate texts by the teacher/coach, who, when asked by the board’s attorney, said he didn’t have the texts anymore.
Case most assuredly not closed
The DA also said he couldn’t give the school board the OSBI report because it would violate state law, and the OSBI told the school board they couldn’t give them the report because it would be a misdemeanor.
Welcome to the state Open Records Act that doesn’t apply to everyone, including the legislature.
So the board voted March 9 to take legal action against the OSBI to force them into handing over copies of the texts sent from the teacher, and their investigative report.
They, like the rest of us, want to know what’s inappropriate, but they have to deal with it.
Case is open again
Then the coach/teacher in question announces on Facebook two days after the March 9 board meeting that he is resigning but “I will still be here and finish until the school year is over.”
Last Friday morning the school’s attorney filed an application that asks the judge to take a peek in private at the records to see if he thinks the school should be allowed to have them.
They want the texts and report because it’s their job to determine what’s inappropriate and what’s not so they can make sound decisions for our school, its children, and our community.
There is also a law that would allow law enforcement records be given to “an educational institution to the extent necessary to enable the educational institution to provide for the safety of students.”
Bravo to school board members
This legal action takes guts, and it’s rare for a public board to agree with journalists in support of openness in government.
All we want is to let the sun shine in on how decisions are made.

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