Tuesday, July 09, 2013

When is a DUI Newsworthy?

Fayette Schools employee is charged with DUI

This was the headline from a story in the Herald-Leader last Friday. It led a short story about a relatively low-level FCPS employee, a teaching assistant.

This from H-L:

A Fayette County Public Schools employee was arrested and charged with DUI after a crash Friday morning, Lexington police said.

Erica Denise Jackson, 35, was driving a pickup that crashed on Georgetown Street at 12:30 a.m. Friday, authorities said. According to police reports, the pickup hit a utility pole, causing the pole to snap. Jackson and two children who were riding in the pickup escaped serious injury.

Jackson was being held in the Fayette Detention Center on Friday.

Fayette Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Jackson works as a teaching assistant at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Excellence and also is an assistant girls' basketball coach at Henry Clay High School. The school system will conduct its own investigation into the incident, Deffendall said. 

The story drew a response from the Fayette County Public Schools Action Committee, not for what it said, but for the Herald-Leader’s failure to report the same offense when the perpetrator was top-level administrator Melodee Parker, back in November of 2011.

An email exchange expressing the committee’s displeasure to Herald-Leader reporter Jim Warren was forwarded to KSN&C by a source within the committee who wishes to remain anonymous. 

It would appear that parental activism is on the rise following recent revelations about the Fayette County Public Schools Special Education Department and elsewhere. As Warren wrote on Friday, “It's unclear who or how many critics there are because they haven't made their names public.”

The resourceful committee sent an email to about 150 families with children who will be attending the STEAM School this fall, apparently through the FCPS email distribution list. The committee composed of "parent advocates" who have an "adversarial relationship" with the school district writes at fcpsoversight.org.

In the exchange with the Warren, a committee leader wrote, 

On 7/5/13, you reported that a teaching assistant, Erica Denise Jackson, was arrested for DUI.  Yet, the Herald Leader failed to report the DUI arrest of Fayette County Public Schools Human Resources Director Melodee Parker (http://theprincipal.blogspot.com/2011/11/fayette-human-resources-director.html). 

In doing so you appear to be picking on a very minor employee after giving a major administrator (the one charge with FCPS monitoring personnel behavior no less) a pass.  The real story here is that Ms. Parker (see http://www.fcps.net/administration/staff-directory/p/parker-melodee) may end up in charge of investigating the conduct of Ms. Jackson.  There may be a bias for or against Ms. Jackson on the part of Ms. Parker based on their common experience.  

Also, how did Ms. Parker plea to her DUI charge, was her arrest reported by the superintendent reported to the professional standards board within 30 days as required by law, and was she exonerated or convicted etc?

Generally, the greater the impact a story has, the more newsworthy it is. Events that have an impact on readers, that have real consequences for their lives, are bound to be newsworthy. Usually, if the people involved in a story are prominent, the story becomes more newsworthy. But the Herald-Leader’s choices seem to run to the contrary. Organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have helped dispel the myth that drunk driving is not a crime. Victims are justifiably upset when news accounts minimize cases of drunk driving that may or may not have harmed others, since the crime always has the potential to claim lives and cause injury.

Now, it just so happens that, within our open records request related to Kathy Dykes, KSN&C also received a copy of Superintendent Tom Shelton’s letter to EPSB regarding Melodee Parker.

The record shows that,
  • Superintendent Shelton properly notified EPSB, well within the 30 days  
  • Parker notified Shelton of her DUI the day after her arrest, having already placed herself in the Employee Assistance program as would be typical for employees without prior offenses
  • She informed Shelton of her scheduled court appearance
  • Parker expressed remorse and described the drinking incident to the Superintendent, and apparently "threw herself on her sword" to keep her job
  • She "volunteered" for a "alcohol diversion education program, generally recommended by the court system."It is unclear if this was additional, or if Parker knew the court was likely to send her there anyway.
  • Shelton gave her a private reprimand
 KSN&C made no effort to follow up on Parker's court appearance.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Day,

Could there, in addition to an appearance of power bia in the Herald Leader reporting, be an appearance of racial bias?

Do you think Mr. Warren would speak to you on the record about his reporting decisions if asked?

Your article is insightful and is an example that news about the news, just like history about history, is important.

Thank you for your always informative blog,

A reader and fan

Richard Day said...

Racial bias? I doubt it. That would run counter to my experience with Warren and the Editorial Board. I suspect the real problem lies with an understaffed newsroom. Severely understaffed.

I imagine Jim would talk to me about this. Others at the paper have.

Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

At some point shouldn't there be an editorial on the missteps and climate downtown? I do think it would be interesting if Ms. Parker recuses herself from any alcohol incidents from this point forward.

These issues need to be brought to light past this hallowed blog in order for real change to happen.

Anonymous said...

I certainly understand the high expectations associated with serving children in the capacity of a teacher or teaching assistant but I often wonder where one can draw the line when it comes to behavior beyond the bounds of a person's occupation.

Obviously, behaviors that cross legal lines and result in public records of the violation are easy to nail down for some, but what about non illegal behaviors which can be quite unprofessional? For that matter why draw the line between felony and misdemenor offenses if the premise is that bad external behavior is some how predictive of poor occupational performance or else is somehow places the profession and organization in a bad light. If I am so reckless as to intentionally or "accidentally" drive well over the speedlimit, run stop lights/signs, smoke in restraunts, throw my trash on the ground, etc., why is that any less an indicator of my professionalism or capability at the work place than getting a DUI?

Don't mean to convolute the subject but I have seen my share of state licensed teachers (as well as doctors, nurses and lawyers) engage is very unprofessional and even dangerous behaviors on their own time which weren't necessarily illegal: Yelling condesending and insulting comments in public, vulgar jokes, sexually oriented comments, intoxication, poor/indifferent parenting, extra marital affairs, irresponsible/neglectful behaviors and plain old arrogant rudeness to mention a few.

None of those behaviors contributed any to the positive image of their profession and if mimicked in the work place would have probably bordered on harmful to their clients/patients, transgressive of regulatory parameters and perhaps even unethical if not simply unprofessional.

Are we saying that basically you can be a lousy jerk outside of work as long as it is not illegal? I mean really, the person who gets busted for DUI I am betting is probably a much more isolated behavior (not that it makes it any more acceptable) than some folks in our profession who are simply horses' rear-ends most every day with the exception of a hypocritical appearance at work.

Richard Day said...

July 11, 2013 at 2:54 PM:

Sure, Superintendents and courts have to deal with these questions all the time.

The short answer is that one cannot become a teacher if they have a serious felony, or a problematic pattern of unremediated bad behavior of some other types. Multiple DUI's, violent outbursts...other. Typically affairs and such do not factor in unless they impact the workplace somehow. With half of the population divorced, maybe that's necessary.

If a high school teacher gets a misdemeanor prostitution bust, what do you do? It's outside school, but it may very well compromise the teacher's ability to continue working with the students.

I think one probably can be a jerk on one's own time as long as the behavior falls short of criminal.

Anonymous said...

I am appalled atthe double standars exercised by the newspaper. I urge each teacher to be professional at all times and serve the public well. At the same time, I urge all members of the teaching staff to become members of either KEA or Kape. This will offer teachers help if they are in legal difficulty. Central Office only looks after its own.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if KEA were more proactive instead of reactive regarding those for whom they are suppose to be representing, there would not exist this sense of disempowerment among teachers. It never ceases to amaze me how teachers (seemingly from FCPS) embrace and vocalize a sense of victimization. Come on folks, quit whinning about the mean old self serving folks in the front office and do something about it visa vi a collective, organized effort. Instead, when challenged to do this all you get are folks complaining that they can't stand up to the man because they will face retribution and termination. Now it seems to me that if you work in a place like that, you probably need your representative organization to be doing more than promising you reactive legal advice.

I will become a member of KEA when it starts to embrace a more proactive and globally engaged role in all aspects of KY education and not just promising some legal advice when a teacher gets in hot water. Come on where's the vision, where's the organizational action plan?

Anonymous said...

KEA is a joke. I so agree that KEA is not proactive. They only support their personnel to a certain point. If you are a classified person then you are not considered as important to them. You pay the same dues as a certified employee, but do not receive the same due process hearings. They receive a hearing with their peers, and you do not receive this hearing.

They will start your case. The school board attorney (Fayette County's Attorney) will appoint a hearing officer (the same one for each case) with the same outcome for each case. Then you will lose. All the KEA attorneys know that this is going on within the organization yet nothing is done about it. Save your money classified employees because they will drop you after you lose the first hearing or spend too much money. To me if this has been going on for over fifteen years you would think that someone would be investigation this little operation. Why would any organization allow an attorney to keep picking the same hearing officer knowing they rule for the school districts every single time? Then have it written were the hearing officer has to rule with the superintendents decisions and can't change the punishment. Something about this stinks to me.

Anonymous said...

From what I recall from KEA's last new employee luncheon pitch, what they promised was legal support for members and the presence of teacher voice in the legislative process.

Now nobody is saying educators shouldn't be doing what is best for students, but there do need to be practical lines drawn. As far as I can see there really haven't been any lines drawn by KEA in support of teachers through through the last few years of legislative/KDE SB1 ramroding. Just higher expectations on teacher time and productivity with an obvious emphasis on the stick instead of the carrot. If you want folks to join the organization,you need make it have tangible and valued purpose for its membership other than promising some legal advice and a no annual fee credit card.

Anonymous said...

Teacher average salaries in KY have raised about $1500 over the last four years with about 25% of districts actually having reductions in average salaries over the last two years. This has occurred as tenured teachers have retained their positions and slowly moved up the salary schedule or been replaced green new teachers. At the same time insurance premiums have increased while benefits have dropped.

State is shifting more fiscal burden to the districts which is resulting in growing disparity between per pupil spending and teacher salaries. If one simply compares FCPS starting teacher salaries to neighboring districts there is a difference of up to $5000 between what one can make just 20 miles away from Lexington. Seems like we are moving toward a conditions which precipitated KERA.

What worries me the most is that I don't think we have the educators (teachers and administrators) who have the independence, fortitude and vision to fight what is coming down the pipe. KEA, KASA, KASC, etc all seem content to Kowtow and be pushed around by KDE and KY legislators, fighting over scraps from the table (how is a 10 grand bribe from the state going to create support mechanisms for at risk dropouts?)instead of actually becoming engaged in the bigger picture of Kentucky public education.

Not long ago I remember teachers almost shutting down districts statewide to march on the capital when their health benefits were going to be cut. Now all teachers do is count to 27 and hope that the state keeps its hands off KTRS.

Come on guys lets take some control of our profession before it isn't even considered a professional any longer.

Anonymous said...

KEA is not a real union for school employees. They do nothing except send you funeral insurance stuff - gimmicky junk mail. They say they have all these benefits but all you get is a t-shirt or a water bottle. The t-shirt is for whoever KEA is politically supporting at that time. Don't even get me started on their legal aid for support personnel. All your money that you classified folks pour into KEA goes for their big fancy building and their trip to California. Caveat emptor, guys.