The story of Grace Davis, a Ponderosa High School student who's been locked in battle with the Douglas County Board of Education for months, is an educational variant of a David-and-Goliath tale.
And while the board technically won the latest round, Davis has landed some mighty blows — and she's not done swinging.
In March, as we've reported, Davis claimed to have been bullied by two members of the Douglas County School Board — board president Meghann Silverthorn and director Judy Reynolds — when they met with her privately (and without prior notification to her parents) in an extended, closed-door session. The topic: a Davis-led March 9 protest at Ponderosa motivated by questions about why so many teachers were leaving the school.
This week, the law firm Sherman & Howard L.L.C. released a report (read it below) based on an investigation into the matter that cleared Silverthorn and Reynolds of wrongdoing — a finding that inspired a protest that repeatedly disrupted the Dougco school board meeting held on Tuesday, June 21.
Many of the protesters at the meeting demanded the resignations of Silverthorn and Reynolds and wore T-shirts emblazoned with the hashtag #IStandWithGrace.
Davis, for her part, spoke at length to Westword about the report, which she regards as a whitewash. She also detailed her continuing beef with Silverthorn and Reynolds.
In her words, "It's scary to wonder if they're going to abuse their power again, like they did to me."
According to Davis, Silverthorn called her about the March protest "and asked to meet off-campus, and I said school would work better. I thought that maybe she would at least talk with the office when she came in — but she came in during the afternoon" on March 4 "and she had Judy Reynolds with her. I didn't know she was coming.
"They asked for a room, but the conference room was already taken. So we went into an office, and they closed the door and started — and they definitely came to talk me out of the protest. I feel like that was their whole purpose."
What was said during this sit-down is no mystery. Davis recorded the entire conversation, which can be heard here:
Davis's parents subsequently blasted the actions of Silverthorn and Reynolds in a letter to the school board.
The letter reads in part: “They did not have our permission to meet in private, or any other way, with our daughter and failed to meet the school security requirements in that regard. Of greater concern are the extremely inappropriate actions that were directed at our daughter during this meeting."
The report about the incident does acknowledge that some of those interviewed "felt Directors Reynolds' and Silverthorn's tones were ill-advised....."
However, the document continues, "virtually every person interviewed agreed that tone was a matter of judgment, not policy, and our review confirmed there are no existing policies legislating tone" — or private meetings with a student of the sort that took place.
There's also implied criticism of Silverthorn for suggesting during the March 4 meeting that Davis contact an attorney and Reynolds raising "the specter of [Davis] and her parents being held liable for and having to pay potential damages arising from the protest."
Nevertheless, the report concludes as follows: "In sum, upon review of all facts made available to us, we have not found evidence that Directors Silverthorn and Reynolds violated any express Board or District policy in conducting the March 4, 2016 meeting with Ms. [Davis] or in their subsequent conduct relevant to this investigation. We leave it to the Board to decide whether our fact findings warrant consideration of policy revisions in any of the areas addressed...."
"Basically, it says they didn't break policy because the policies aren't really in place," Davis points out. "And that just shows the problems we have with board policy. Even though technically they didn't break policy, it doesn't mean what they did wasn't wrong. There's no policy to protect students from being approached by boardmembers in closed-door meetings, and that's a huge problem. If there's anything I want fixed right away, it's that.
"They paid the attorneys to uncover what policies they broke, but they didn't really ask them if what they did was unethical, which it completely was."
Those aren't her only problems with the report.
"It says I had a direct association with Douglas County Parents," the organization demanding that Silverthorn and Reynolds step down, "and I don't have one other than that they'll message me and say, 'Thank you so much for doing this.' I've never worked side by side with them at all" — though she did briefly address protesters through a megaphone outside the Tuesday meeting. "They basically lied about that. Douglas County Parents will tell you it's wrong, and I'll tell you it's wrong. The only real association was them using my hashtag on their social media to draw attention to the issue, and that doesn't mean we were working together."
The current actions of the board aren't any more to Davis's liking. She castigates Silverthorn and company for closing off general public comments at a June 9 board meeting and notes that a woman who tried to speak about Davis was silenced by security.
In response, Silverthorn, corresponding by e-mail, says June 9 was a "special meeting," and under board policy, public comment at such get-togethers is limited to agenda items only — and the Davis incident wasn't on the agenda. She stresses that she has no intention of ending general public comment for all meetings, noting that the opportunity for general public comment will be available at the July 19 session.
Regarding the incident involving the Davis backer, Silverthorn writes: "Stefanie Fuhr, a DCSD resident, was called to speak at the June 9 meeting. She claimed that she wanted to speak about personnel changes, which was a specific item on the agenda that approves staff changes such as hires and departures. That is specifically DCSD employees. When she began to speak, she started talking about the Davis affair. I reminded her that she needed to confine her remarks to the agenda items announced prior to the meeting. She said she was talking about personnel changes, and again began to speak about the Davis affair. Since I cannot give a person special treatment to step outside of the approach allowed by policy without inviting chaos, I asked Mrs. Fuhr to step away from the microphone. She began to yell her speech in a combative manner, despite my repeated requests to step away. Only when security began to approach her did she step away, and she was definitely not escorted out."
What does the future hold for Davis? She's about to start her junior year at Ponderosa, and she makes it clear that the administrators at the school "haven't been defensive or punished me in any way" for her activism.
She adds that "I get letters throughout the district saying, 'Thank you.'
"So it's mostly the board that I have issues with — especially Silverthorn and Reynolds, for obvious reasons."
Continue to see a 7News report about this week's board-meeting protest, followed by the report about the Davis matter.