David Medina, who earned his keep as a journalist before scoring a six-figure job with the Hartford school system, sent out a curious email yesterday.
Sure enough, when the Courant’s Vanessa de la Torre showed up at the meeting, she was barred from attending by Medina, who dialed up Assistant Corporation Counsel Melinda Kaufmann for some legal reinforcement.
The meeting, Medina explained to me today, wasn’t a meeting of the School Governance Council at all, despite the phrasing in his email. It was, rather, a private get-together between Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and the 60 or so parents who showed up to hear more about the decision to transfer the school’s principal.
“As she [Kaufmann] explained it to me, as long as you limit it to an exclusive group – parents – then you’re perfectly within the law to have a private meeting,” Medina said.
But there are holes in that explanation.
If the gathering amounted to a meeting of the School Governance Council, it was clearly illegal, as the state Department of Education has stated explicitly that the councils are subject to the state’s open-meeting laws — and those laws make it clear you can’t pick and choose who gets in.
But even if the meeting were permissible as a parents-only gathering — and we’re still waiting for the legal citation Medina promised hours ago — last night’s meeting wasn’t limited to parents. Not by a long shot.
“There were a few students there,” Medina acknowledged. “They came in; I can’t tell you why they weren’t excluded.” And a couple school administrators, too, but only to take names at the door, although not everyone signed in and no one was required to prove they had a student at the school.
And about 10 faculty members were in the audience as well, and were greeted by Kishimoto, according to a participant. And then there was the school board member — who does not have children — who was Tweeting from the event.
So is that a meeting of an “exclusive group”?
“The superintendent requested a meeting with parents. That was her intention – to meet with parents. That’s the meeting we requested,” Medina said. “And the superintendent wanted them to have the freedom to speak up and say their peace, whatever it is they had to say.
“She didn’t want them to hold back because of the presence of the press and their concern that they might be quoted, and it also inspires some people to start grandstanding as well. So she wanted everyone to be on the same playing field and be able to speak openly. That was basically her motive.”
Last night’s event was similar to a gathering a week ago at the Burns school: A meeting to discuss a change in leadership at the top – and an email to members of the media to stay away.
But as Kerri Provost points out on her RealHartford blog, here’s how the meeting was described on Facebook by the Community School Director at Burns:
Unless you’re with the media.
Update: At 5:15 p.m., Medina said he was still waiting for the corporation counsel’s office to provide a legal citation, as am I; Kaufmann did not respond to my telephone and email messages sent earlier in the day.
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