Douglas County Schools

School board members face intimidation probe

Ponderosa protest organizer recorded meeting with pair


The Douglas County School Board agreed April 19 to launch an independent investigation into board President Meghann Silverthorn and Vice President Judith Reynolds after 16-year-old Ponderosa student Grace Davis said she was intimidated and bullied by the pair in a private meeting about the March protest she organized at the school.

The three newest school board members, who said they had listened to a recording Davis made of that meeting, also called unsuccessfully for Silverthorn's and Reynolds' resignations.

"There is no excuse for two adults to intimidate a ... student on school grounds," board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said.

Davis was one of about 100 students at Ponderosa who held a peaceful protest March 9 to ask why teachers were leaving their school and district.

Before the rally, Silverthorn and Reynolds, noting concern about student safety and wanting to hear students' views, met with Davis at the school. Davis' parents said they did not know about, nor give consent to, the meeting.

Davis said she received a call from Silverthorn March 3 and was asked to meet somewhere off campus. Davis declined. Silverthorn and Reynolds then showed up March 4 at the school unannounced, Davis said.

"The board members were very harsh with their tones, especially Judith," she told the school board during the April 19 public comment session. "They made me feel little and basically told me that since I am a student, I am not properly educated to express my First Amendment rights as an American."

"They said that holding my protest would result in another malice act happening toward a police officer on or near the property and that it would be my fault, that my family would be responsible for paying the police for showing up and any injury or accidents that could occur," Davis said.

After the meeting, Davis said, she and her family sent an email to the district and board voicing their concerns and asking for the pair's resignation because of Davis' treatment.

The family asked for a response before the April 19 school-board meeting but said it did not receive one.

Davis, accompanied on April 19 by her father, had recorded the 1½-hour meeting and said she sent that recording to all seven board members.

"When I think about it now," said Davis, who at one point teared up, "it makes me uncomfortable and angry that I was treated in such a fashion by our school district's leaders."

Community members in attendance at the meeting cheered Davis, who reiterated her call for the two board members' resignations.

Silverthorn and Reynolds, who appeared taken aback by the requests for their resignations, disagreed with Davis' interpretation of the meeting.

"I thought we had a robust discussion," Silverthorn said.

"I was not there to intimidate," Reynolds said. "I was there to understand."

Upset by what they heard on the recording, Lemieux, along with board members David Ray and Wendy Vogel, also asked for Silverthorn's and Reynolds' resignations.

"I listened to the whole recording and I was appalled," Vogel said.

Under board regulations, Silverthorn and Reynolds were under no obligation to resign and did not.

After more than 1½ hours of debate over proper parliamentary procedure in relation to the matter, board member Doug Benevento called for an independent third party investigation of the matter.

"I believe we should have an investigation to see if any laws or policies were broken," said Benevento, who said he had not listened to the entire recording.

Ray disagreed.

"You're looking at a child who was bullied by board members," he said. "What more facts do you need?"

Silverthorn said she was "happy to subject us to that investigation."

Although the board did not formally vote on the independent investigation, members agreed to have board attorney Rob Ross organize and conduct it as soon as possible.

Ross said it could be done relatively quickly.

Board member Jim Geddes was not present at the meeting. The next school board meeting is scheduled for May 10.


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