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Midlothian ISD policy controls media, board

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The Ellis County Press

MIDLOTHIAN - The school district's media policy needs to be re-examined.

If a reporter contacts a school board member, procedure is to immediately contact the board president, and that, according to a trustee and media representatives, could walk the fine line of violating the First Amendment and of the press.

'It's an agreed-to policy the board [decided on],' said MISD Board President Cindy Williams.

Williams, who said the board could not legally enforce the policy, noted the past controversies with the district as the reason the media procedure exists.

The Texas Education Agency was investigating former Superintendent Jimmie Carpenter, and the Texas Association of School Boards, according to Williams, wanted the

board to qualm the differences and shine a more positive light within the community.

Translation: MISD doesn't want the 'negatives' getting out in the press, and thus become what Williams called an 'embarrassment' to the district.

Understandable, but when something controversial comes to light, it is not for the district to 'sweep' things under the rug, so to speak.

The biggest hurdle my media colleagues and I have is probably a less-than-open government; this is bad for the people, and it's twice as bad for the press.

Duke Burge, MISD trustee, said there was nothing he could do to stop the press from calling up a board member to ask a specific question. The policy, he said, does appear to skirt the line with the First Amendment issue.

'We can't stop them [trustees from answering questions], but they know they shouldn't,' Burge said. 'But I'll be as honest and open to you, and I think everyone would.'

During the Monday, May 19 meeting, which ended at 2:40 a.m., freshman trustee Dirk Younts was called out of order for going over and beyond his two-minute discussion period. Younts had taken issue with several past policies and decisions by the current school board, but was, in effect, told to shut up.

If the media policy appears to stifle free speech, then what does a two-minute discussion period look like? And during the course of the meeting, the two-minute rule was only used when Younts took what appeared to be a sharp, contrasting viewpoint - political correctness runs the same exact way.

Even teachers, in this case the Waxahachie school district, cannot talk to the press without 'getting into trouble.'

The administration, according to teachers, doesn't trust their teachers to give opinions - this smacks of thought-control and media manipulation.

As the saying goes, the truth hurts. But a newspaper, TV station, or any other media outlet's primary role is to be a watchdog on the local, state and national government. A media policy like the one Midlothian has hampers that role and should be looked at more closely.

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