Last week, we wrote about looking into a reported drug bust at one local high school that turned out to be a gun investigation not just at the high school, but at a middle school as well.
We weren’t really surprised, Friday, when we started receiving blistering phone calls from the local middle school principal as well as school system administrative staff. It has been our experience that the school system dislikes being under the microscope.
What did cause us pause was hearing words like, “false report,” “never happened” and “there was never a BB gun” on Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School (WFRMS) campus as we reported March 7, based on clear statements from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.
Both Samiha Khanna, Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) senior administrator for media and public relations, and WFRMS Principal Stacey Weddle angrily demanded we print a correction, with Weddle insisting it be on the front page.
But follow-up phone calls with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office continued to corroborate that they were, in fact, still investigating a BB gun incident from Feb. 22 at the Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School. So we stood our ground.
Weddle, however, on advice from Khanna, went so far as to record a phone message for parents early Friday afternoon that said, “The news report is wholly false … no weapon was confiscated on our campus. These events did not occur at WFRMS.” (emphasis Weddle’s)
However, a little bit later Friday evening, WCPSS began to change its tune. New Interim Director for Public Relations Renee McCoy clarified that comments from the Office of Family and Community Engagement about there being no BB gun investigation on the WFRMS campus actually referred to WCPSS’s security team not conducting an investigation and that, “the Wake County Sheriff’s Office … conducts its own independent investigations.”
Monday, the story changed even more dramatically. We got a phone call from the Sheriff’s Office in which they said that they did give us incorrect information about a BB gun being confiscated at WFRMS Feb. 22. Weddle, it seems, was correct when she told parents, “On Feb. 22, there was no security search or incident at WFRMS.”
The search, and subsequent taking into custody of a student in possession of a BB gun at WFRMS happened Feb. 28. On Feb. 22, a student was taken into custody for possession of a BB gun at Heritage Middle.
The truth games
What is most disturbing about this set of events isn’t really that kids were taken into custody over possessing BB guns, although that is troubling.
The real problem is how the school system and local school leaders reacted.
Later statements from McCoy made it clear that Weddle knew about the Feb. 28 incident on WFRMS campus at the time we were asking and writing about the alleged Feb. 22 incident (having been inadvertently misdirected by the Sheriff’s Office). While McCoy didn’t start her job until Friday and was not aware of the Feb. 28 incident until late Tuesday night, it stretches the imagination to the breaking point to think that Khanna and the rest of WCPSS central staff were in the dark.
Additionally, based on e-mails obtained through a public records request, Khanna knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that a student had been taken in custody with a BB gun on Feb. 22, it was simply at a different Wake Forest middle school, less than a mile away from the focus of our questioning.
Why didn’t Khanna, Weddle or anyone else from the school system clear up the dates and incidents with the correct facts? The short answer we received is because we didn’t ask the right questions.
You heard it folks. Unless you know beforehand exactly what happened so you know exactly what questions to ask, the school system ain’t sayin’.
While the rest of us recognize the deceitful practice of quibbling over dates and hiding behind, “you didn’t ask about that” — after all, what parent hasn’t had to deal with the same with their own children — it is astonishing that the very folks working for an institution synonymous with truth-telling don’t grasp that fundamental concept.
As we wrote in last week’s editorial, parents, and the rest of society, must be able to implicitly trust school system personnel at all levels. Playing gotcha-games with the truth does nothing to build trust. Rather, it creates an are-you-smarter-than-a-wily-lawyer atmosphere with parents pitted against the very people who will be caring for and educating their most precious possessions.
While we certainly understand and respect a principal’s decision to not necessarily report every incident on campus to parents, what is not respectable is for anyone connected with the school system to pretend to take the high road, and publicly rush to say a news outlet is wholly wrong in a story when its merely a case of dates being switched. And again, those details were provided by law enforcement.
So, here is our public request to the Wake County Public School System and the principal of the local middle school, we would like a correction, please.
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