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ncident sheds light on what can be shared

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 12:53 p.m. CDT

A recent incident at school has generated many questions and rumors. In today’s world of instant messaging, social networking, and anonymous — yet very damaging — comments, false information spreads at the speed of light.

Given the rights and legal protections afforded minors and adults in our country, we in public schools are restricted in what information we can share with the public. We must answer to the public however possible, but we are required by law to protect the rights of students, staff members, and all other stakeholders.

We walk a narrow path in this regard. 

Many times it would be much easier and best for those involved if we could publically explain all the details in particular incidents. We could show the true stories are not in the same universe as the rumor mill-generated versions. 

Our laws are restrictive in this regard and will often prohibit pure or immediate transparency. However, we will continue to communicate and to take appropriate actions as allowed by law while maintaining safety for everyone involved at our schools.

With that said, what information can school officials legally share? Also, what does certain terminology really mean? At times, a school official may state an incident is under investigation. What does that statement mean exactly? 

First off, when school officials tell you an incident is under investigation, the use of the term “investigation” suggests higher levels of formality and urgency. An incident under investigation is not an everyday occurrence.

As time progresses after an incident happens, if officials state an investigation is “ongoing” you can take that at face value. The incident is still being investigated. Also, you can bet time is being taken to follow legal procedures and to determine potential disciplinary actions.

The law generally does not allow administrators to tell the public when certain individuals are suspended, terminated, placed on administrative leave, etc. and school employees cannot tell the public when certain kids have been suspended, expelled, or kicked off of a team. Therefore, even when harsh reprimands or disciplinary actions have been taken, people in the public may perceive that nothing has happened because it has not been reported publically.

There is not enough space in this edition of the newspaper to address every rumor or inaccurate piece of information related to an incident involving some of our student-athletes. However, I will try to list a few facts that should help.

The two young men that qualified for the State Wrestling Tournament have engaged in no inappropriate conduct that would prohibit their participating in the state tournament.  To be clear, neither boy was involved in any inappropriate behavior. 

Therefore nothing has been swept under the rug to allow these boys to fulfill the honor of competing at such a high level. Regarding any investigation or potential actions that may apply to adults or students involved with the program and as described earlier, we cannot report such information.

Freedom of speech in our beloved country began as a right for anyone to speak their mind without fear of retribution from the government. However, for many years a face and a name has been identified and directly connected with all statements spoken freely. 

In today’s digital world, freedom of speech now includes a glut of statements made anonymously with no regard for human decency, courtesy, accuracy, or fundamental respect. We must all become more careful consumers of information, realizing that rumors or accusations written in digital messages or posted on Facebook are not automatically accurate because they are listed on the web. 

Recent events have once again reminded us that situations can take on a life of their own in the digital world. We will continue to communicate with the public, to share the information legally possible, and to protect everyone’s rights.

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