The Boulder Valley School District finds Chalkbeat Colorado’s reporting in its April 19, 2021 article “A Colorado principal put an 8-year-old boy in a hold until he passed out. State law has ‘no teeth’ to force changes” to be egregiously biased, unnecessarily politicized and unethical.
Despite multiple requests from BVSD following the publishing of the article, Chalkbeat has been unwilling to retract the article or to make corrections.
We strongly discourage news organizations from utilizing the article as a basis for reporting on the story.
The 2019 Incident
It is important to share that BVSD has expressed its distress over this incident that occured in 2019.
While we disagree with some of the specific findings made by the Colorado Department of Education, notwithstanding the Boulder Valley School District has implemented the State’s recommendations and made significant improvements to training, reporting, and restraint review, as detailed in the original statement provided to Chalkbeat, as well as subsequent materials provided to Kohl parents since the article published.
BVSD is available to answer additional questions on this case.
Specific Concerns Regarding Chalkbeat’s Reporting
Though the list is not necessarily exhaustive, BVSD has concerns that:
The outlet failed to provide BVSD with a full scope of article
In April, Chalkbeat reporter Melanie Asmar sent the Boulder Valley School District three questions regarding State-Level Complaint 2020:901, involving Kohl Elementary School, in Broomfield:
Has BVSD completed the recommendations in the CDE decision?
Has BVSD changed any policies or procedures in the aftermath of this case?
Is the principal still employed by BVSD at the same school? It's my understanding that the principal in this case is Geoff Sandfort at Kohl Elementary.
Reporter Melanie Asmar failed to share that the primary focus of the article was not the 2019 incident, but rather attorney and CDE’s concerns that state law does not give the state adequate power to penalize school districts who do not comply with the recommendations made by CDE in a decision on child holds or restraints.
To that end, no mention was made that there would be testimony from special education lawyers and the Colorado Department of Education on an issue unrelated to the complaint or from the mother of the student involved, who was subject to a confidentiality agreement.
Specifically, the district was unable to dispute the fact that CDE has many other levers to force compliance amongst Colorado school districts.
Chalkbeat failed to follow up with additional questions, when given the opportunity
While the Boulder Valley School District recognizes that providing a written statement is more formal than a traditional interview, this does not alleviate a reporter’s responsibility to ask follow up questions, especially when they obtain information that was outside the context or questions that they previously asked.
BVSD demonstrated that it was willing to answer additional questions. Asmar reached out and received speedy responses when she asked follow up questions about the case. She, however, again, did not choose to ask follow up questions about the statement or seek a response about the comments from the mother.
Chalkbeat failed to include full context from report, leading to misleading cause-and-effect
The article’s headline and statements within the story misled readers to believe that restraint caused the child to pass out. The reporter knowingly and willfully omitted important information that would have given greater context to the situation and provided additional voice to the principal and other individuals directly involved in the situation.
Headline: “A Colorado principal put an 8-year-old boy in a hold until he passed out”
Reporter’s statement in story: “Two years ago in Colorado, an elementary school principal stood behind an 8-year-old boy gripping the boy’s crossed wrists until his body went limp, his eyes fluttered, and he foamed at the mouth”
These statements assert a cause and effect finding that is not found in the Colorado Department of Education report.
Instead, the report states, “the EMTs found that Student's ‘levels looked good’ but did not hypothesize about what caused Student to pass out.” P. 12, #73, #75.
Chalklbeat chose to use statements by the mother that were not fully substantiated by the CDE findings
The reporter instead chose to include the child’s mother, who did not witness the events:
“It didn’t take long to figure out that’s not what happened,” she said. “He’s 8, a skinny little thing. This is a grown man squeezing him — and doing it wrong."
"The boy’s mother was at lunch with friends when she got the call to come to the school. At first, she said the principal told her that her son purposely held his breath until he passed out."
The reporter’s insertion of the words “at first,” indicate that the principal’s testimony has changed. This is not true. The principal’s testimony remains unchanged. He maintains that the child passed out because he held his breath.
There was a choice to accept her narrative of what happened -- and not the principal's (from the report) and furthermore to shield her from questions about her involvement or lack thereof. According to the report, the school and specifically the principal called the mother multiple times, but she chose not to come to the school. Additionally, the child was brought to the building in an escalated state. Finally, despite her statements regarding the child’s emotional wellbeing following the incident, she did not seek mental health support. If an individual is to be included in the story, their testimony must also be critically examined.
Chalkbeat unethically connected Kohl incident to state compliance issue
The incident at Kohl did not support the narrative of the story. It was clear that Kohl Elementary and the Boulder Valley School District complied completely with the recommendations made by the Colorado Department of Education, raising a question unasked in the article – if we did fully comply, perhaps the concerns of CDE and the attorneys are unfounded.
Furthermore, the story did not explore the fact that the state’s complaint system has poor governance. For instance, there is no appeals process available to a school district or individual, nor proper oversight.
At the heart of Ms. Asmar's article, as well as concerns from attorneys and the CDE, are issues of transparency, and accountability, yet the very process that exists to achieve those ends lacks both.
In this process, a single person decides upon both the information solicited during the investigation and ultimately what information is relevant in determining a finding. This leads to the possibility that important questions are never asked and salient information is therefore not considered. Similarly, relevant facts offered during the investigation process may be selectively excluded from the published findings. Redacted interview notes could/should also become part of this record and could be linked at the end of the report. There is not even the possibility of including a letter of dissent as part of the record.
The article disclosed information not available in the report, that allowed the public to identify the subject of the report
The CDE report does not specifically name the school or individuals involved. The reporter chose to disclose this information after it was provided by the mother who was subject to a confidentiality agreement, despite the fact that it had not been confirmed by the State or BVSD.
BVSD firmly requested that this information not be disclosed prior to publication, but the reporter chose to include the school name and individual’s position – which allowed the public to make an immediate connection.