Following weeks of skepticism from many parents and taxpayers, Douglas County Superintendent Thomas Tucker recommended the school board fire a middle school teacher whose controversial Twitter posts went viral.
Michelle Grissom, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Highlands Ranch, was put on paid leave Jan. 23, after her Jan. 20 tweet, calling out a Kentucky student, claiming he participated in a controversial rally in Washington, D.C. that made national headlines. The post referred to the student as training to be part of the “Hitler Youth.”
The student Grissom mentioned by name, however, was not actually at the rally.
Tucker formally recommended Grissom's termination at a Feb. 5 school board meeting. Under Colorado law, Grissom may request a hearing on the basis of her termination before a hearing officer, who would make a recommendation to the school board, according to a statement from Tucker.
“The DCSD Board of Education will be the final judge as to whether Ms. Grissom is retained or dismissed,” the statement says. “Therefore, the Board must preserve its impartiality, much like a judge in a civil or criminal matter would.”
While the dismissal process is ongoing, Tucker said, the school district will not provide further comment. In the meantime, Grissom will remain on paid leave.
The district's handling of the process has outraged many community members. Before the Feb. 5 board meeting, outside of the district's administrative building in Castle Rock, nearly two-dozen protesters stood on the grass, in the bitter cold, holding signs and chanting in opposition of the school board.
At the previous school board meeting, deputies from Douglas County Sheriff's Office escorted a man from the building for addressing Grissom by name. The school board claimed the man violated district policy, prohibiting individuals from using specific district employee names during public comment.
The policy is in place to protect the district from possible litigation for defamation or slander, according to school board and cabinet members.
“They cannot silence us,” Brad Wann, an outspoken parent from Highlands Ranch, said over a megaphone during the protest. “We are the parents, we are the taxpayers.”
The crowd followed with a chant: “This is our mic. This is our podium. This is our school district.”
Grissom's tweet referenced videos from a D.C. rally that 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.
A chain of tweets back and forth ended in Grissom apologizing to the family for misidentifying a “racist and disrespectful student.” The student's father called Grissom's behavior “totally abhorrent” and her actions “inexcusable.”
Shannon Clarke, principal of Mountain Ridge Middle School, sent an email to parents on Jan. 23, confirming that "Michelle Grissom is currently on leave.”
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.
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. 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."
At the Feb. 5 board meeting, following requests from several parents during public comment, school board President David Ray said the board would review district policy on public comment and social media use.
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