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When was it decided the public has no right to know?

When the news broke recently that the Innovative School District (ISD) Superintendent had left, it broke with little help from the ISD itself or the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). 

Bloggers and journalists revealed that Superintendent LaTeesa Allen had left, and DPI waited several days to release an announcement about a new superintendent. 

Nobody knows why Allen left and whether she was asked to leave or did so voluntarily. When former ISD Superintendent Eric Hall left the position, and later left DPI altogether, there were announcements accompanying that. 

My efforts to find out more have mostly met with failure. Beyond learning Allen’s last date on the job, I’m as in the dark as anybody. 

When I emailed Dave Prickett, head of communications for the ISD, to implore him to tell me something, I stressed the irregularity of having such a large profile change in leadership without some public announcement. Here is part of what I said: 

“…if a Superintendent of any other district left their position, there would be some public explanation. The ISD is arguably under more scrutiny than other districts, and thus the need for an explanation is even more important.”

Turns out I was wrong — so wrong. 

Last week, news broke that Clayton Wilcox, Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), had been suspended. Later in the week, news reports revealed that he would resign. 

To date, no explanation has been given for any of this. Instead, the CMS board hired a PR firm to deal with the fallout from the suspension of the superintendent. 

I try very hard in my reporting to take no position on education issues. It’s important to me that my journalism be as straightforward as possible. That being said, there is one area in which I’m happy to let my bias show: the free flow of information. 

I believe that being open and honest is the best thing for public discourse. Of course, letting information flow free can be disconcerting and sometimes disadvantageous for governmental bodies, but the truth is that they serve the public. And when considering the pros and cons of releasing information, there should always be a thumb on the side of the scale representing the public’s right to know.  

In both of these cases — the ISD and the CMS superintendents — bodies elected by the people to represent the public interest are keeping the truth to themselves. This is especially egregious when you consider that the education system is one of the most far-reaching and impactful levers of government in the state. It affects nearly everyone either directly or indirectly. To operate behind a curtain of secrecy is good only for those who wish to keep their jobs, preserve their reputations, or avoid nagging complications. But in front of that curtain is a crowd demanding to know what’s happening backstage. 

I was wrong when I tried to tell Prickett that the ISD was acting unusually in not saying more about Allen’s departure. Apparently, the rule of the day is to act opaquely. If CMS, one of the biggest school districts in the state, can do so, then why would anybody else think it is out of bounds? 

I’m here to say that it should be out of bounds. That the public should demand more information, understanding, and transparency. 

How can anyone understand or take a position on what’s happening with the leadership of these districts? It’s impossible because they have little idea of what’s going on. The people who do aren’t talking. 

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.