Greene County School Board bans video camera from public meeting
By Kylie McGivern, 7pm Anchor / Digital Journalist - bio | email
GREENE COUNTY, TN (WJHL) -
Case closed. That's what the Greene County School Board told two mothers, who say their children were the victims of bullying. They're others who went back before the board Thursday night, in search of answers.
Last month, the two mothers of Greene County Elementary Schools complained their children were bullied by school employees. News Channel 11's Kylie McGivern reported that night, tension ran high.
At Thursday's monthly board meeting, Christan Serrianne and Melissa Bryant returned to the school board meeting, because they felt their issues had not been fully resolved. But Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk told them that was not the case.
Kylie went to the school board meeting Thursday, greeted by the school board chairman handing her a document policy which he says allows the board to ban my video camera from recording the meeting.
So instead of being able to show what happened, outside building doors was as close as our camera could get.
News Channel 11 has covered the Greene County School Board for years, as recently as last month. and never had our cameras barred until our last report on the parents' bullying concerns. Inside the meeting, we noticed no limits had been placed on still photography. That's when we started snapping the images we could.
Serrianne and Bryant once again told the board their children had been bullied by school staff at two separate schools. Kirk told both mothers the matter had been resolved - the staff members involved had been talked to and administrators felt the acts were not malicious.
"I have answered you," Kirk told Bryant after her comments. "And I consider the matter to be closed. She did not kick him. She nudged him with her foot. She did not kick him."
Kirk told News Channel 11 the school system is in the process of extensively reviewing its policies, including clarification of which forms are for community use versus administrative use. All are currently posted on the school system's website.
But the mothers feel, still not enough has been done. After the meeting, they spoke to News Channel 11 on camera and said:
"I want respect for my daughter, because I feel as though instead of making the matters better for my daughter, I've made it worse. And I feel like they're retaliating against my daughter," Serriane said. "She's had quite a few instances. Last week, one was child to child bullying. Another was with the administrator and her, and a bus incident. As far as those go, those have been followed by policies and procedures. My biggest concern and my biggest issue with the Greene County School System is the fact that they didn't go by policies and procedures back in August."
"I have a voice recording saying that she used her foot on my child as means to get his attention. And the following day, whenever she called him out to harass him for telling me, then she stated that she kicked the door to demonstrate what a kick was - that if she would have kicked him it would have sounded like this," Bryant said, of a Mosheim employee. She played a portion of that recording during her five minutes of time allotted for public comment to the board.
"I'm hoping the outcome is, there's no more incidents. This is not an isolated incident. She (employee) has harassed him more since this has come to light. He had an incident Wednesday of him and some other students, their jackets getting jerked off of them, which, that incident last Wednesday was addressed promptly. And THAT was taken care of. But this seems to keep happening. And the more we stand up and fight for our children, the more harassment they're getting," Bryant said. "it just keeps continuing to happen and they say it don't happen."
All this happened in a meeting which board members said our camera was not allowed in. Shortly after it happened, we alerted our viewers via social media about the abrupt camera ban with no reason given. Kirk later apologized for how the message of "no cameras allowed" was delivered. Kirk took to Twitter after the meeting and said "Plenty of media there to cover the entirety. No video - helps to prevent a sound-bite view."
Another tweet read: "Just following long-established policy."
Kirk told News Channel 11 in person, "If you're not going to play the whole thing - snippets sometimes give the wrong impression."
Our first attempt at interviewing Kirk on camera was immediately following the meeting. She stated emphatically that she would not talk to us, because she didn't agree with the way we reported on the last school board meeting - when our camera was present.
The policy they used to keep our video camera out of the meeting says: "The press shall not bring a camera, camcorder, or other photographic equipment to Board meetings without the consent of the Board."
It also says: "The chairman of the Board and/or the director of schools will be available after each meeting to answer questions and to clarify points of discussion and action."
Upon News Channel 11 reminding Kirk of the board's policy, printed and handed to News Channel 11 by the board chairman, Kirk agreed to talk away from the camera, in her office. She said she stands by her decision regarding the allegations of bullying.
"I feel like we've made efforts," Kirk said.
Since last month's school board meeting, those additional efforts include asking the Parent Advisory Council for review and feedback on current polices regarding bulling and harassment, with the Leadership Team weighing in, and chiefly, an attorney who has been tasked to examine the current policies.
Regarding this newly enforced policy to restrict News Channel 11's video camera, Kirk said this was approved by the board more than a year ago and that it was actually a mistake to allow us to video any of last month's meeting.
"We shouldn't have done it last time," Kirk said. "We were already in the meeting when I realized."
Kirk says in the last year or so, the school board voted on whether or not to allow the monthly public meetings to be recorded in full, so that anyone who may have missed the meeting would have access to such footage. The vote was "no," Kirk told News Channel 11, saying there were board members who didn't feel comfortable being recorded. Kirk said board violated its own policy last month, by allowing our camera inside. She said because last month's meeting was the first time a camera has showed up at meeting since the vote was taken, they had never before had to address the situation.
"I just hope that we can move forward and be better," Kirk said. "We are going to use all of these experiences to improve."