The Douglas County School Board's president and vice president were found not to have violated any rules or laws in the alleged bullying of a Ponderosa High School student.
An independent report, which cost the district $178,000 and was released the evening of June 20, focused on an incident in which Meghann Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds spoke to Grace Davis about a planned protest at her school in March. The investigation was conducted by Denver-based law firm Sherman & Howard LLC.
“We have investigated all aspects of the March 4, 2016 meeting between Directors Silverthorn, Reynolds and Ms. (Davis) in which they discussed the planned protest,” states the report, in which Davis' name was redacted. “Many of the individuals indicated that they would have handled the meeting differently if they could have stepped into the shoes of Directors Reynolds and Silverthorn. But their reasons for doing so differed widely. Several Directors felt it was inappropriate to speak to a child in that tone or manner. Others felt the meeting was ill-advised because of the political environment in the District that was sure to result in a negative outcome regardless of Ms. (Davis') intentions. In the course of our investigation we were unable to locate an express policy, procedure or legal authority that Directors Silverthorn or Reynolds violated in conducting the meeting with Ms. (Davis).”
The school district has received more than 600 emails in support of Davis and requesting the immediate resignation of Silverthorn and Reynolds.
"I am grateful the investigative report is complete, that no wrongdoing was found, and that I was granted due process because of the thorough investigative procedure," Reynolds said. "I am hopeful that our community will find a way to move forward and to focus as much energy and emotion on meeting the needs of our students and staff as has been spent on this. The personal attacks for difference of opinion are unacceptable and unproductive, and do nothing to help conduct the business of the district — providing our students with the best possible education and the skills they need to become successful adults."
Silverthorn was not immediately available for comment.
Davis, who turned 16 shortly after the incident, was disappointed with the outcome, saying “just because they didn't technically violate policy does not mean that they didn't do something very wrong.”
“The report uncovered a lot of policy issues surrounding the board that are huge problems. There needs to be rules and regulations that keep people's children protected from being bullied by the board,” Davis said. “The bullying of a student is a huge issue and I'm afraid that it will happen again if the board does not discipline Silverthorn and Reynolds and show the public and future board candidates that this behavior is unacceptable.
“All and all I am very displeased with the amount of progress and proactive work the district is doing in order to resolve this issue. I do believe that Silverthorn and Reynolds will try and push this under the table until they think it has adequately disappeared. But I'm not going to disappear. I'm a human being who they preyed on, not an agenda item they can just push to the next board meeting and the next and the next and the next.”
School board member Anne-Marie Lemieux also was disappointed in the findings of the investigation.
"It is unfortunate that we now have to consider writing a policy that explicitly protects students from bullying and intimidation by elected officials," she said.
The school board agreed April 19 to launch the 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.
“The board members were very harsh with their tones, especially Judith," Davis told the school board during the April 19 public comment session. "They made me feel little and basically told me that since I am a student, I am not properly educated to express my First Amendment rights as an American.”
The group Douglas County Parents emailed a statement following the release of the investigation.
“It is disappointing, but not unexpected, that the investigation into the bullying of Grace Davis by Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds found no wrongdoing on their part.
“We, and hundreds of other community members, have listened to the audio of the closed door meeting and were appalled by Directors Reynolds and Silverthorn's tones of voice and statements made to Miss Davis,” the statement reads. "Over 600 people were disturbed enough to send emails to the Board of Education requesting their resignation, while only two wrote to support them. While this investigation may not have found specific policy violations, we stand firm in calling for the resignation of Director Reynolds and Director Silverthorn. Their treatment of a minor by an adult in a position of authority was inexcusable.”
Some members of the community have expressed concern about the money spent on the investigation.
"The board majority seems to have used $178,000 of taxpayer funds to pay for an incomplete investigation in which all claims were not verified," reads the statement from Douglas County Parents.
To read the report, click here.