Intimidation at Board Meetings

May 3 Board Meeting

So there’s been a lot said about security at board meetings lately. Take Saturday’s article by Crystal Bonvillian of the Times, “Huntsville school board meeting audience met with metal detectors.”

Laurie McCaulley was told that Al Lankford, the district’s security chief, was concerned about “body language and demeanor at some of the meetings.” This is quite a curious statement.

You see, as someone who regularly attends board meetings, I am, of course, concerned about security at the meetings. Heck, my daughter was in attendance at the board meeting on March 15th, so of course I am interested in making certain that these bi-weekly meetings are safe. Every sane person shares that concern.

If I didn’t believe the meetings were safe, I wouldn’t go. If I didn’t believe they were safe, I certainly wouldn’t have allowed my daughter to attend.

But I do, and I did. And I’ve been at every board meeting since April 7, 2011 except two. In fact, if we count simply the bi-weekly board meetings for the past year, I’ve probably attended more of them than Al Lankford has attended. (For some reason Mr. Lankford wasn’t present from the January 17th meeting until about a month later. I was pleased to see him return.)

In other words, I’ve seen nothing in the audience’s body language and demeanor that would lead me to the conclusion that someone was behaving in a threatening manner. What I see at board meetings are people laughing, talking, applauding, saluting, and mostly sitting quietly and listening to the meeting.

Now, granted, I’m not there to watch the audience; I’m there to listen to the business being conducted. I’m also not a trained security officer. I know for a fact that a trained police officer is capable of “seeing” more than I.

But I am a writer and a teacher. I take my subject matter from observation of people as a writer, and I know when my students are alert, engaged, interested and learning (and I know when they are not) on the basis of their body language. So, while I do not have the years of training that I am sure Mr. Lankford has in identifying a threat, I do believe I am capable of seeing and noticing when someone is behaving in a threatening manner.

So while this is just my unprofessional assessment, not once have I seen anyone in the audience behave in a way that would cause me to be concerned about my safety.

But then I don’t see the world as Mr. Lankford, (or Dr. Wardynski for that matter) sees it. For example, Mr. Lankford, during our conversations on Thursday night asserted that sitting quietly and holding an iPad recording the Superintendent’s comments was an intimidating action. During that same conversation, he also referenced my sitting quietly at the State of the Schools address and holding an iPhone directed toward Dr. Wardynski and his presentation as an intimidating action.

He even claimed that my standing silently for 80 seconds as I waited for a response to my comments as an “intimidating action.” He stated multiple times that I was “intimidating the board” and that he wasn’t going to allow me to do that. He even implied that my sitting silently with my head down, live tweeting the meeting was questionable.

So it seems to me that he sees a threat where I do not.

It seems to me that Dr. Wardynski also sees threats in things that just don’t seem threatening to me. For example, during his presentation to the board concerning his recommendation to put a fence and a “welcome center” (read: guard shack) around the new Lee High campus, he asked for several photos of the neighborhood surrounding Lee High to be displayed for the board and the public.

Here are just a few of the photos he showed to establish the “aesthetic” of the new Lee High campus “neighborhood.” I’ve photographed these shots off of the eTV Broadcast on Thursday night.

Lee Neighborhood2Lee Neighborhood3Lee Neighborhood4

And like any true showman, he saved the best one for last. Here’s what Dr. Wardynski said when he introduced the picture below:

This is in the neighborhood. That fence there is, which fence is that, Glenn? Coca-Cola Plant, and what’s the one on the left? That’s the soldier’s home? So the solder’s home has an ornamental fence as well which adds to the character of the community.

Here’s the picture that accompanied the text that Dr. Wardynski was using to justify the $600,000 fence around Lee High School:

Lee Neighborhood

So, what’s the central detail of this photograph? What’s the first thing to catch your eye? What’s the single detail that will convince much of America that additional security around Lee High is necessary?

Don’t see it? Here’s a close up:

Hoodie

Evidently Dr. Wardynski didn’t see it as he didn’t comment on it, but I see a faceless figure, probably male, approximately six feet tall wearing stained jeans, a dark tee-shirt underneath the scariest item of clothing known to at least parts of America: the Hoodie.

Yes, in order to convince the board to support the new fence around Lee High, he showed them a picture of a person in a hoodie. (Truthfully, I think the board had already made up their minds on this matter. I think this was intended to drive the need for a fence home to the general public.)

Now, for the record, I am not opposed to the fence around Lee High. I think it’s overpriced. I think that the price should have been included in the $40 million spent to build the school, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Many schools have a clearly defined parameter.

But the superintendent’s methods of getting what he wants are at best questionable here. While I’m sure he would claim to either not noticing the person in the hoodie or not understanding that it might communicate something that he didn’t intend to communicate, it would seem that he is at least inadvertently using fear, uncertainty, and doubt to get what he wants.

One might even say that he is intimidating others into supporting his recommendation.

So there may have been some acts of intimidation taking place on Thursday night, but if there were, those actions weren’t initiated by me. I was sitting quietly in my seat listening, tweeting, and eventually attempting to record the superintendent’s words until I was ordered to stop.

One might argue that security was being used to intimidate members of the public for undertaking state statute protected activities. One might argue that the superintendent was attempting to influence the board and the public by using emotionally charged, racially charged images. One might argue that the superintendent was the one attempting to intimidate others the last time that citizen comments were broadcast in his comments to a teacher who stood up for what she believes in.

(I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the citizen’s comments to the board weren’t broadcast during the board meeting immediately following the superintendent’s “cautioning” of a teacher. You know, the meeting where the citizen’s comments worked against him.)

In the article, Mr. Lankford is quoted as saying, “We’re tired of getting threats;” I’m sure that our teachers, administrators, staff, and parents all agree with him on this.

I’m certain the metal detectors will help with this problem.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

2 Comments

  1. Ahhh, yes. The tyrants of the Huntsville City School system. I am all too familiar with their screeches of “intimidation” and “threatening” behavior.

    In my case, the school system went so far as to enlist the Army to shut me up because my opposition to the actions of the school board was gaining steam and other parents were standing up for themselves. Like you, not a single one of my complaints to the board received a response.

    I put up my video with time hacks to the more egregious behavior shown by administrators of Huntsville City Schools and they complained more adamantly. The Army tried forcing me to take down the videos because the school was complaining.

    I’m glad there’s still someone there holding them accountable. I’m a little more than surprised that many of the names on the board are the same from three years ago. They should have ALL been booted for trashing parents and protecting such draconian methods.

  2. “I’m a little more than surprised that many of the names on the board are the same from three years ago. They should have ALL been booted for trashing parents and protecting such draconian methods.”

    I agree, And you aren’t the only parent who was trashed and bashed.

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