Somewhere for readers, in the watery linguistic potpourri that Dr. Tom Gabert served up this week – to call it a letter would confer too much coherence upon it – there are morsels of truth, like a diner who ordered pea soup only to get two peas in a bowl of dirty water.
Yes, the judge did not dismiss our open-records case against Lakeland Union High School. Yes, the judge will review the records. All as we reported in our article on that court hearing.
Beyond that, however, Dr. Gabert’s letter is full of misinformation. It so far off the mark on the case, in fact, that I wonder if he can really be so misinformed or if he is deliberately trying to mislead our readers. Either way, it’s quite a sad performance.
It’s sad for one thing because Dr. Gabert is defending a character attack on one of the district’s employees, and defending the right to keep the content and sources of those attacks secret. All of us have been subjected at one time or another to such maliciousness, on a greater or lesser scale, but whatever the scale no one likes it when lies are told about them and spread into the community. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s unacceptable.
It’s sad, too, because the truth is – Dr. Gabert seems incapable of telling it – the judge’s review is only a “starting point” in the verification process, as the judge himself said. If that is not satisfactory to authenticate the records, or to prove they are not authentic, the discovery will continue.
Of course, that authentication is all The Lakeland Times has ever sought. That’s why we proposed four different ways the records could be authenticated, and, if they were real, kept confidential by court order. Dr. Gabert leaves all these points out.
The bottom line is, while the judge may ultimately rule that the records should remain sealed, he would do so only if they are what LUHS says they are. The Times has already secured what we sought, a finding on the record’s authenticity.
If they are real, we don’t want them.
On the other hand, Dr. Gabert seems to believe that would somehow be a win for the school district, when in fact the school district’s central argument, acknowledged in open court – that the records should be exempt from disclosure even if they are fake – has already been rejected by the court.
Now, lest readers be tempted not to believe those were the central arguments and objectives, lest readers be tempted to eat Dr. Gabert’s soup, The Lakeland Times invites you to read for yourself. On our website and in today’s paper (see pages 27-33 of the print edition or see it online by clicking here), we are posting and printing the actual briefs submitted by each side to the court. And when the hearing transcript is available, we’ll post that on our website, too.
(In the interest of transparency, we also invite Dr. Gabert and the administration to post all these briefs and the hearing transcript on the school district’s website and to directly notify all parents by email of such postings. We are sure the administration wants all concerned parents to know exactly what its legal arguments are).
What readers will find in the briefs and in the transcript is the truth, unfiltered by Dr. Gabert. What readers will also find there is proof that our article on the court hearing was factual reporting without any editorialization on our part. There was plenty of editorializing all right – by the judge, as he repeatedly smacked down the absurd arguments of the district.
His remarks are in quotations – Dr. Gabert may not understand quotation marks – but readers will find even more in the transcript. We simply didn’t have room to get them all in.
In his letter, Dr. Gabert declares the school board to be 100 percent behind the administration in the open-records’ case. If that is true, then one of two things has occurred: Either the administration never presented its central legal argument to the board, or the board embraced the outrageous idea that it is OK to protect records from the public, even if they have been fabricated to defame someone.
If it’s the first, the administration should be fired. If it’s the latter, the entire school board should be fired.
Indeed, a reasonable position would have been to avoid expensive litigation through third-party verification and court-ordered confidentiality. That would have been reasonable because of the very real public questions raised about the documents, as The Times’ attorney, Robert Dreps, so convincingly argued in court.
Perhaps more to the point, I question whether Dr. Gabert speaks for the board. I do so because I have spoken with school board members who privately have told me they do not support the administration on this issue. So somewhere, somebody is not being truthful. Who is it?
Dr. Gabert has the audacity to raise the specter of Joe McCarthy by saying families have furtively come forward to the newspaper, in much the same way McCarthy said hidden spies came forward to him. The suggestion is that we made it all up.
This is, of course, inexcusable dishonesty on the part of Dr. Gabert. Our stories have in fact been parent-driven; what’s more, they are accurate and verified, which Dr. Gabert well knows, and the families came forward only because they did not trust this school board to act. In one instance, a family sent an entire packet of materials to every member of the school board and never heard a word. Then they came to the newspaper.
Dr. Gabert knows all this and chooses to lie. Why do I not find that surprising?
The newspaper does not pursue stores we cannot document. It’s laughable, though, when Dr. Gabert says a school district must adhere to a higher standard than “hearsay and untraceable comments.” Laughable because that is exactly what the district has gone to court to protect – hearsay and untraceable comments, comments the public is supposed to believe are true just because the administration says it is true.
So who is using McCarthy-like tactics? This newspaper verifies the stories we run; LUHS refuses to publicly verify the documents they use to make critical decisions. It is simply appalling that any government entity believes it has the right to fabricate documents to use against someone, and then to protect itself by keeping them secret and telling the public to trust it.
Finally, Dr. Gabert says the board cannot afford to lose sight of the responsibility to provide an excellent education for our children. I would argue that they already have lost sight, or at least there’s reason enough to debate whether they have.
I refer to the common core standards the district has embraced, as we have reported. And so it again raises the question about the school board: Does it know what these standards ultimately mean for education in the district, or do they know and simply support the federal takeover of area schools?
That’s a different question for another day, but I would close simply by saying Dr. Gabert tries to use Thomas Jefferson’s lofty standards to cover up the lack of transparency within the school district. Dr. Gabert suggests that questions about openness and misconduct within the administration are somehow hurting education, when in fact they are critical to its possibility. A school that does not operate in the sunshine cannot possibly educate children about the need for openness and honest conduct as fundamental civic building blocks in a democracy.
That’s something Thomas Jefferson understood; Dr. Gabert doesn’t get it.