School lawyer: reporting inaccurate, unfair
by Staff Writer
Our firm represents Lake Norman Charter School (“LNCS”). We are very concerned about a series of recent stories (appearing in the Herald Weekly) regarding LNCS that are factually inaccurate. We believe that both the public and LNCS deserve better.
The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a Code of Ethics. It begins: Journalists should: - Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
The stories contained in The Herald Weekly about which we are concerned appear to fall short of that simple expression of journalistic ethics. …
These factual misrepresentations pertaining to LNCS include:
• June 16: “Parents Challenge Charter School’s Fairness”
“Sisson did not address the treatment of the administrator’s child charged by police with bringing the stun gun to school, a Level III offense, the highest level of offenses in the school’s code of conduct.”
LNCS cannot comment on disciplinary incidents involving specific students without violating federal law. Ms. Sisson was legally restricted in her comments. The story did not explain this important fact to the reader, but rather led the reader to an erroneous inference about Ms. Sisson’s performance of her duties.
• Aug. 4: “Charter School Director’s Future Unclear”
“Though school administrators summoned a Buncombe County sheriff’s deputy to the place the students were staying, the deputy refused to file charges and didn’t even file a report on the incident.”
See the Incident Log here Event2011088909. (No police report on the incident has been filed in the case, a Buncombe County Sheriff's deputy has told the Herald Weekly on two seperate occassions)
This is inaccurate. Clearly, no one from the Herald bothered to call the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to verify this statement. At least we assume that no one bothered to verify it. Otherwise, we must assume that it was published with knowing falsity.
“The school finally promoted the boy and dropped expulsion proceedings in exchange for the parents agreeing to drop any legal action against the school. “
The source of this information is not given. It should have been. The reader will reasonably believe that LNCS released this information, which as noted above, LNCS is legally prohibited from doing.
“Since then she [Board Chairperson Sisson] has refused to respond to Herald emails asking if Riemer will be the school’s managing director – or work in any capacity at the school – when classes resume this fall. She also refused other questions. “
This is not true. Ms. Sisson did not “refuse” to answer any questions. Mr. DeLoache knows that but intentionally used the word “refused” which is inaccurate and which damages the reputation of both Ms. Sisson and LNCS.
• Aug. 18: “Lake Norman Charter Managing Director Resigns”
“Sisson refused at the time to say if Riemer would remain as managing director when fall classes began and refused to disclose Riemer’s salary and whether the board had given him any severance package.”
That statement is false. She did not refuse. She was not able to drop everything to respond instantly. Moreover the Herald’s article indicates that LNCS was in violation of the state’s public records laws. This is also not true. Ms. Sisson never refused to provide compensation information for any LNCS employee as the Herald states in its story.
On July 26, 2011, Mr. DeLoache e-mailed Ms. Sisson requesting dismissal records for the managing director, citing an Attorney General’s opinion pertaining to dismissal records in the context of a public records request. Ms. Sisson replied to Mr. DeLoache by e-mail stating: “Mr. Riemer is employed by Lake Norman Charter School. There are no dismissal documents for the public to review.” This was an accurate statement. Ms. Sisson did not refuse to produce anything. Indeed, there was nothing to produce as there had been no change in status.
On August 10, 2011, Mr. DeLoache e-mailed Ms. Sisson requesting the managing director’s compensation information and followed that request up on August 16, 2011 with another e-mail requesting salary information for all LNCS administrators. On August 17, 2011, Ms. Sisson sent Mr. DeLoache the compensation information for the school’s administration that she had available, specifically stating that she did not have all the information requested at hand and that LNCS would comply with all lawful public record’s requests.
The Herald should be advised that the public records laws do not require LNCS to come to a screeching halt and drop everything to respond to a public records request. At the time of these requests, LNCS was very busy getting ready for the opening of school.
When LNCS did provide the compensation information it had on hand, the Herald published it in what appears to be an attempt to create controversy regarding the amount paid the school’s managing director. The Herald did that by comparing LNCS salary information to principals at CMS schools. That is like comparing apples and oranges. A CMS principal has support from area superintendents, area human resource Managers, and others. A CMS principal’s responsibilities are more limited than those of a managing director at a charter school. The managing director’s duties are more akin to those of a head master at a private school. Regardless, the compensation paid by LNCS to its staff is appropriate. There is simply no point to that part of the Herald’s story.
Mr. DeLoache has not measured up to the standards of professionalism that your readership and this school should be able to expect from the Herald. Further misrepresentations will not be tolerated. We ask that in future stories about LNCS, the reporter assigned to the task do the work to verify the accuracy of facts reported. Should the Herald choose to write any future stories regarding the matters discussed herein we request that all inaccuracies be corrected and that an apology be issued to LNCS and Ms. Sisson for previously indicating that they had violated any laws.
The Herald has been an important part of our community for a long time. For our part, we will try to be as responsive as we can. But please remember that the first mission of LNCS is to provide its students with a superior education.
– J. Michael Honeycutt,
Partner For Fisher & Phillips LLP