School district sues parent over blog posts

November 18, 2007

You know, the obnoxious parent who stands up at every school board meeting, making the same boring point week after week, month after month, finally slipping into accusations about the ethical behavior of the board members and administrators who do not jump to the parent’s wishes — yeah, that one.

She’s a thorn in the side of any district governing board, but often enough correct about new policies, and sometimes in exposing wrongdoing, that most boards tolerate the barbs and try to fix the problems legitimately pointed out.

But what if the parent “thorn” has a blog?

The drama unfolded in Galveston; as of right now, it looks as though the district will back down from its threat after the blogger held fast; surely this will not be the last of such stories we see.

The school district in Galveston, Texas, threatened to sue a parent for views expressed on her blog. It alleged libel. Slashdot had one of the earliest rundowns, including the fatal flaw in the district’s complaint and how it tried to deal with it:

“A Texas School District is threatening to sue a parent over what it terms ‘libelous material’ or other ‘legally offensive’ postings on her web site and are demanding their removal. Web site owner Sandra Tetley says they’re just opinions. The legal firm sending the demand cited 16 items, half posted by Tetley, the rest by anonymous commentators to her blog. The alleged libelous postings ‘accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for “personal gain,” violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.’ The problem for the district is that previous courts have ruled that governments can’t sue for libel. So now, in a follow-up story, the lawyers say the firm ‘would file a suit on behalf of administrators in their official capacities and individual board members. The suit, however, would be funded from the district’s budget.’ So far, Tetley hasn’t backed down, although she said she’ll ‘consult with her attorneys before deciding what, if anything, to delete.'”

The site is dedicated to watching the Galveston Independent School District, GISD Watch, by concerned parent Sandra Tetley.

According to the Galveston Daily News:

[David]Feldman [of the district’s law firm, Feldman and Rogers,] said Tetley’s Web site — — contained the most “personal, libelous invective directed toward a school administrator” he’s seen in his 31-year career.

“It is not the desire of the School District, the Board, or this Firm to stifle free expression or inhibit robust debate regarding matters pertaining to the operation of the public schools,” Feldman wrote in the demand letter. “This is solely about the publication of materials that clearly go beyond that which is legally and constitutionally encouraged and permitted, and into the realm of what is legally offensive and actionable.”

Feldman cited 16 examples of what he says are libelous postings. Half were posted by Tetley; the other half were posted by anonymous users.

The postings accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for “personal gain,” violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.

Tetley said the postings were opinions only.

“Everyone deserves to have their opinion,” she said. “I don’t think they have a right to make me, or anyone else, take down criticisms of them off the Web site. They’re not going to force us to take off our opinions because we have no other place to go.”

The Drudge Report posted a story about the case, attracting 64,000 viewers. Tetley hired Galveston attorney Tony Buzbee, who has had great success suing institutions in Galveseton. Buzzee warned the district that his client would strongly fight against any suit filed against her.

As of November 10, district Superintendent Lynn Cleveland said the district would probably drop legal action, to focus on delivering education to students.

Quite a drama in two or three weeks. Press freedom won out.

On the one hand, no one likes to be sued for libel. On the other hand, Ms. Tetley knows the school district’s leaders are paying attention to what she says.

What’s the moral of this story?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pamela Bumsted, who alerted me to this by e-mail.

Another carnival of DDT

November 18, 2007

One of the clues that someone is financing a public relations campaign for DDT and against care for the environment is the way “news” keeps popping out about the benefits of DDT, though there is no natural process for making such news in back of the stories.

We old PR flacks recognize that without the push from an agent, these stories wouldn’t get written.

Just over a month ago there was a flurry of stories about how DDT was “effective” even after mosquitoes developed immunity to it, because it repels mosquitoes, too — even though that wasn’t what the researchers concluded, and that wasn’t the major thrust of the research article.

We also saw a Hoover Institute fellow call for DDT to be used to fight the spread of West Nile virus, though no public health official called for such action, though there is no particular need for such a drastic change in policy, and despite the fact that DDT spraying for the mosquitoes that carry West Nile is one of the least effective means of killing them (DDT is not a larvacide, and larvacides are called for to combat West Nile).

This month? No real news, but the American Enterprise Institute, which nominally is pitched at promoting business interests, issued a new report recycling all the old canards, calling for increased use of DDT in Africa to fight malaria, despite already expanded use, and despite a lack of call from health officials to spray more DDT.

Here’s how it looks on the internet:

November 5, 2007 – Wall Street Journal opinion piece by AEI’s Roger Bate, over the years one of the most ardent salesmen of DDT as the solution to nearly every problem, so long as it bashed environmentalists. WSJ notes the piece is a shorter version of the AEI report.

November 1, 2007 – TCS piece by AEI’s Roger Bate, complaining generally about environmentalists.

Random DDT stuff, some of which may turn into separate posts:

“Judgment Day” censored in Memphis?

November 18, 2007

PBS’s ombudsman takes note of worries that Memphis did not get the NOVA program on the Dover, Pennsylvania trial of intelligent design. “Judgment Day” was not aired in the normal NOVA timeslot.

Station management pleads that they made no decision to censor, just a decision to run supporting program for Ken Burns’ massive film project, “The War,” instead. (HD viewers could see the NOVA program).

Let’s hope that’s accurate.

In the meantime, the letters to the ombudsman give a clear probe into the minds of viewers; favorable reactions were many; more numerous, unfavorable reactions seemed to come mostly from the reason-challenged side of humanity. It’s worth a read.

Sample of the unfavorable:

After tonight’s program on Intelligent Design it proves that PBS has a “design” of its own — it’s one that is driving the country to destruction — your bias is completely counter to history, to the very foundation of our nation and history of nations. Every part from beginning to end had its own objective; completely counter to the Truth which is proven in the rise and fall of nations.

Daryle Getting, Winter Park, FL
It doesn’t take a “Rocket Scientist” to figure out that if we, as humans, evolved from monkeys . . . THEN WHY? . . . Are there STILL Monkeys??? We were “Created” by God!!! Pull up AOL now and you’ll notice the Gov. of Georgia praying for rain, (No Doubt to GOD). When 9/11 happened what did every good neighbor do? PRAY. Not to monkeys . . . To our “Creator”!!! It shouldn’t take tragic and desperate circumstances for people to realize this fact!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! In GOD We Trust!!!

Sonya L. Johnson, North Port, FL

Sample of the favorable:

I just watched your program “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” Fantastic! I don’t remember recently watching such an informative and well put together program. PBS deserves to be awarded for this stellar program. Thank you so much for actually airing a program that was intelligent, well put together, and fun to watch. Superb. Atlanta, GA

Am I unfair in labeling some “reason-challenged?” Certainly fact challenged. Read the rest of this entry »

Why not treat kindergarteners like college students?

November 18, 2007

Vouchers in Utah have the wooden stake right in the heart. That’s one proposal in one state. More voucher proposals are promised, and the debate continues.

Voucher advocates generally make a plea that colleges have something akin to school vouchers with Pell Grants (Basic Education Opportunity Grants), Stafford Grants, the GI Bill and other federal programs, plus many state programs, which give money to a student to use at a college of the student’s choice.

Why won’t this work for kindergartners, 8th graders and 10th graders? the voucher advocates ask.

The short answer is that we regard college students as adults. Beyond that are several other differences between elementary schools and colleges that we should, perhaps, explore.

Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas has a couple of posts that provide some insights to the issues. In the first one, “We Have Vouchers for Higher Education,” the question is raised about why not let elementary students operate like veterans, and take their government money where they choose to.

In the second, “Vouchers Are About Choice, Not Quality,” we get a glimpse of real life — parents fighting to keep open their neighborhood school, despite there being better performing schools available to take their kids.

We might want to compare systems, at least briefly.

Read the rest of this entry »

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