A lawyer with Sherman & Howard LLC, the Denver-based law firm that handled the investigation into allegations of intimidation of a student by two school board members, was scheduled to discuss his findings with the Douglas County Board of Education at its July 19 meeting. However, Gordon W. Netzorg, who conducted the investigation and wrote the report that cleared the board members of wrongdoing, did not attend the board meeting.
"Mr. Netzorg's position is that he was engaged to provide a report, which he did. That the report stands for itself, and if there were going to be any questions, he wanted that to only be in executive session," said Robert Ross, school district attorney. "That is not what we had in mind, so his condition of an executive session is not acceptable from my understanding of what the board wanted."
The independent report, which was released the evening of June 20, focused on an incident in which school board President Meghann Silverthorn and Vice President Judith Reynolds spoke to Ponderosa High School student Grace Davis about a planned protest at her school in March. Davis recorded the conversation with the school board members and accusations arose that the two tried to intimidate the then-15-year-old student into not holding the protest.
During the June 21 school board meeting - at which a number of community members called for Silverthorn and Reynolds to step down - the board said Nertzorg would give a presentation on his findings at the July meeting.
The school board agreed April 19 to launch an independent investigation. Davis was one of about 100 students at Ponderosa who held a peaceful protest March 9 to ask why teachers were leaving their school and the district. Before the rally, Silverthorn and Reynolds, noting concern about student safety and wanting to hear students' views, met with Davis at the school. Davis' parents said they did not know about, nor give consent to, the meeting.
On July 19, the board discussed the report and asked Ross questions about the investigation process. Ross said he could not answer specific questions about the investigation. Silverthorn was not at the meeting.
Board member Anne-Marie Lemieux reiterated her stance that the meeting between Silverthorn, Reynolds and Davis was inappropriate and called for the community to learn from what had happened.
"We have had questions from the community about how we have handled this situation," Lemieux said. "We have all made mistakes and mistakes have taken us away from the facts of what actually happened and how we are going to make sure that never happens to any of our students ever again."
Before and after the release of the report - which cost the district about $164,000 - Silverthorn and Reynolds faced criticism from community members and repeatedly were asked to resign.
Board member Doug Benevento admonished the rush to judgment in the matter, saying it was politically motivated and that it set a bad precedent.
"The message that has been sent to every employee in this district now, and it should send shivers up their spine, is that the minute that they may be on the wrong end of something, they could be subject to this kind of action," Benevento said.