Don’t let Bill Thompson’s incompetence fool you, part 1: your School Board, other than me and Kay Fields, may well approve the Guardian program if you don’t stop them

What follows is a typically lazy and inaccurate passage from Ledger editorial writer Bill Thompson. What separates it from normal, and makes it worthy for attention, is the civic importance of its misinformation. Here’s the quote, addressing our school safety work session last week with Sheriff Grady Judd and a whole bunch of silent police chiefs:

“Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd foreclosed on the idea of arming teachers even before Scott enacted the Coach Aaron Feiss Guardian Program, named for one of the three Douglas High faculty members slain in the Feb. 14 attack. And it appears, so far, the board agrees with her. Only one board member, Sarah Beth Reynolds, publicly expressed openness to the idea.”

There are four errors in the three sentences of that one paragraph. Two are serious, one highly disrespectful in its carelessness, and another just routinely disrespectful in its carelessness. (That’s more than an error per sentence, Brian Burns. Just FYI. Is this what we subscribers are paying for? Stop letting this guy misinform the public and hurt your hard working reporters for no value in return. Please.)

First, Jackie Byrd did not “foreclose” on the idea of arming teachers; she opposed it. The Legislature and U.S. Senate Candidate Rick Scott foreclosed on it in the law itself. Here’s what it says. Click to enlarge:

You may notice a sentence that reads: “Excluded from participating in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program are individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers as defined in s. 1012.01(2)(a).”

There is a touch of wiggle room in the word “exclusively”; but by all appearances, this exclusion would apply to both teachers I know who expressed support for the idea of serving as guardians, at least in theory. I can’t count how many I’ve talked to who oppose it. (If you’re asking, “wait, who is even left to arm after you exclude teachers?” then you are asking the right question. I will answer it later this week.)

Second, Bill misspelled Aaron Feis’ name. That suggests to me Bill did not care enough about Aaron Feis’ sacrifice to read the law named for him. As you can see, that law spelled Feis’ name correctly in almost exactly the same spot it excluded classroom teachers from the program.

The School Board seems inclined to arm…somebody, anybody

Third, and most important for Polk County, Bill is completely wrong about the sentiment of the School Board. It wasn’t just Sara Beth Reynolds (whose name Bill also misspelled) who expressed clear support. Lori Cunningham did too, unequivocally.  Here’s her quote:

“I would definitely support a guardian program administered by our sheriff’s department. How many (guardians) and where, obviously that has to be… that’s more in the weeds than we are today. But I believe it has to be looked at with the world in which we live.”

You can watch her say it in the video of the work session, starting at roughly 2:29:45.

I worked pretty hard for a long time as a board member to convince district leaders to promptly post these videos. We’ve been doing it for at least a month now. Transparency is important to me.

This particular video has been available for viewing for a week. And yet, Bill Thompson still managed to write this sentence: “Only one board member, Sarah Beth Reynolds, publicly expressed openness to the idea.”

Could it be possible, Bill, that you are so bad at your job that you did not even watch this video before writing about this issue? Really?

That laziness and incompetence has real consequences. Bill Thompson and The Ledger have provided a false sense of security to readers who are opponents of the Guardian program. And it’s left supporters with the false impression that they have no chance of winning. Both are false.

Much to my chagrin, the correct sentence would have read, “Only Board Members Billy Townsend and Kay Fields expressed clear opposition to the enacting the Guardian program in Polk County.”

In reality, Tuesday brought two solid “yes” votes. And, again, much to my chagrin, a majority of the board seemed quite gettable for this terrible idea, which will kill kids over time (if it can even be implemented) and hopelessly divide school communities against each other.

If you’re in the public, and you oppose this idea, you need to get on the email/phone to Lori, Sara Beth, Hazel Sellers, Lynn Wilson, and Tim Harris. (Tim, in fairness, seemed skeptical to me.) By no means should you take Bill Thompson’s word for anything.

In fact, this editorial is so awful, such a mix of incompetence, cheap ideology, and bad faith that it’s actually quite useful. I’m going to make a series out of it. It helps illustrate how uncollaboratively awful and un-implementably bad the entire Legislative “safety” plan is. The next edition will focus on the particular skills that Grady Judd’s elementary school commandos will bring to the Guardian program.

But until then, I’m formally asking that The Ledger correct Bill Thompson’s disastrously bumble-typed heap of wrong — so the public knows just how serious and undecided this is.


3 thoughts on “Don’t let Bill Thompson’s incompetence fool you, part 1: your School Board, other than me and Kay Fields, may well approve the Guardian program if you don’t stop them

  1. Billy, please post a list of board members and their email addresses. Compiling them from the School Board website might hamper public comment and input. Make it easy!

  2. Thank you for this informative article. I am a parent of a 7th grader in a Polk County school as well as a 4 year old who will be attending kindergarten in August. I am fully opposed to this idea and have written an email to all of the board members who are in support of it.

    Thank you!

  3. Well said Billy. I don’t even purchase the Ledger because of the misinformation and their biased ways.

    Might I also recommend as a side note, the School Board needs to add public comments to the videos. Those comments are just as important as the rest of the Board meeting. In the old days, they used to include them on the PCSB channel. They don’t anymore and I noticed they don’t do it on the youtube channel.

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