February 26, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

KC Star only reports half the story on Leavenworth School Board controversy

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The Kansas City Star reported in its online edition of March 11th a remark by Leavenworth USD 453 board member Vanessa Reid at a February board meeting, in addition to her official visit to an elementary school days before. The publication, however, overlooked another contentious statement at the same meeting from Board President Judi Price, raising questions of a double standard in the newspaper’s reporting.

Criticism of Reid had begun a couple of days before the board meeting when she accompanied State Rep. Pat Proctor of Leavenworth to the David Brewer Elementary School. The two looked at students’ artwork, and Proctor snapped a picture of a rainbow, drawn by a 4th grader, celebrating the LGBTQ community. He put the picture on his Facebook page.

Near the end of the February 1st Leavenworth school board meeting, Board President Judi Price asked each member what one characteristic they sought in a new superintendent, as the board was in the process of selecting candidates to interview. Reid jokingly answered, “Blue eyes.”

Only the audio of the meeting was available, but several members appeared to have laughed at the remark, as Reid offered she was just trying to lighten the mood near the end of the two-hour meeting. Her comment can be heard at the 1:52:00 mark in the recording.

This is where the Star ended its reporting of the meeting but added critical comments from Reid’s fellow board members Mike Carney and Dannielle Wells, and Brewer Elementary PTO President Courtney Ricard. Ricard referred to Reid’s “blue eyes” comment as “racist” and called for her to resign. Wells also demanded her resignation. Carney stopped short of a resignation call but criticized Reid for bringing politics to the board, stemming from a previous curriculum challenge.

No one, not those interviewed by the Star, nor reporter Sarah Ritter, mentioned a comment from Leavenworth Board President Price moments before the Reid remark.

At 1:38:00 on the audio recording, during the discussion of superintendent characteristics, a board member offered:

“A sprinkle of humility.”

Price responded with a reference to her Army service:

“Humility is one of those things; it’s great if you’re a white guy, received well, but humble women? no, people of color? no, it’s not seen as a strength. It’s seen actually as a negative…… humility is not viewed as a positive trait when it’s applied to women or people of color”

We reached out to Price for an explanation of her remark; she did not respond.

We also sought comments from Ricard, Wells, and Carney, all critical of Reid, for their interpretation of Price’s statement and if they saw a double standard in the newspaper’s coverage of the meeting.

Neither Ricard nor Wells responded. Carney said, “Not interested in your request.”

 We contacted reporter Ritter and Star Editor Greg Farmer and asked if they saw a double standard in the paper’s reporting of the meeting. Farmer did not respond, but Ritter offered a defense of her reporting:

“Thank you for reaching out and raising your concerns here. I really do appreciate it. Rep. Proctor also pointed out Judi Price’s comment to me, and I listened to the audio. I have been speaking with parents to see how her comment was interpreted. And I have been waiting on Price to respond to me about it as well. The first story was focused on people publicly calling for Vanessa Reid’s resignation during a board meeting, so we kept it more narrow there. If there is another story to be done on Price or any other board member’s actions, we will certainly write it.”

Although no one else involved will comment or acknowledge a bias in the coverage and reaction to this controversy, Vanessa Reid sees the criticism heaped on her in print and in social media as unfair:

“My comment had no racial intent. I was raised to see everyone as equal, and that’s how I’ve always lived. Her (Price’s) comment was racial in intent and, actually, a comment all about race.”

Last week, the KC Star only told half the story about special education funding, excluding information on school spending and cash reserves that contradicted calls for increased funding.

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