After most media accounts failed to report the whole story surrounding Hickman Principal Dr. Tracey Conrad’s decree forbidding Ryan Ferguson to set foot on the school campus during the school day, it seems important to present the facts. Read the blog post that started it all HERE.
The district bosses are doing some serious backpedaling, mounting a public relations assault that attempts to present the entire incident as a big misunderstanding. Big boss Superintendent Belcher even went so far as to accuse Keep Columbia Free of posting “an erroneous report.”
Belcher said he was surprised and disappointed when a local blog posted an erroneous report saying Conrad banned Ferguson from the school. He said that led to many “negative, hateful emails to some of our staffers.”
Well, Superintendent Belcher, this community is not surprised, but certainly disappointed that you chose to use your public pulpit to accuse Keep Columbia Free of spreading false information. I guess it is easier to deny mistakes and berate the work of the citizen journalist instead of simply admitting that your staff made a glaring mistake.
The good news is that most people don’t buy the explanation that Mr. Ferguson “wasn’t really ‘banned,’ we just told him he couldn’t come.”
So, what does it mean to be banned? The Oxford Dictionary defines “ban” as:
Ban: Officially or legally prohibit: officially exclude (someone) from a place
For instance, The City of Columbia has banned smoking in all businesses during business hours. Smokers must go outside and smoke on the sidewalk. In the same way, Dr. Conrad has banned Ryan Ferguson from visiting Hickman during normal school hours. The interview with the school paper must be done outside the school boundaries, perhaps at the neighboring McDonald’s.
It is clear that Ryan Ferguson was “banned” from Hickman High School. The district is attempting to say he was only banned from the school during class hours. If this were the case, why did Dr. Conrad suggest the interview be conducted as McDonald’s? Even if Mr. Ferguson was only prohibited from visiting during school hours, he was BANNED during those hours. That is not an erroneous claim. If anyone is making erroneous claims, it is Chris Belcher and his administration.
Here is the timeline of Keep Columbia Free’s involvement:
Wednesday 11.20.2013, evening: A Keep Columbia Free volunteer was approached by a Hickman student who was upset at being told the interview with Ryan Ferguson had been cancelled by the school principal. The student said that Dr. Conrad had said that too many students believed he was guilty and his presence at Hickman would be a class disruption. The student said that when Ryan’s Mother, Leslie Ferguson, was told that Ryan was not welcome on the Hickman campus, she said that if her son could not come, she did not feel comfortable visiting the school.
Wednesday 11.20.2013, 9:30-9:45PM: A Keep Columbia Free volunteer sent emails to several Hickman teachers and Dr. Conrad requesting comment and verification of the student’s story.
Thursday 11.21.2013, 9:34AM: A reply from a Hickman teacher was received verifying the story told by the student. The teacher declined to make a comment about the story and referred KCF to Dr. Conrad for comment.
Thursday 11.21.2013, mid-afternoon: Keep Columbia Free decided to go ahead with the story after receiving no response from Dr. Conrad explaining her decision.
Thursday 11.21.2013: The story began to receive viral attention via social networking sites, garnering over 1200 “likes” in the first few hours, and fielding nearly 8000 page views by midnight. Keep Columbia Free alerted the local media about the growing story.
Friday 11.22.2013: The viral spread of the blog intensified with the post receiving nearly 19,000 visitors in a 24 hour period – over 26,000 hits since originally posted. The post received over 4000 “likes” and was shared via Facebook and Twitter several thousand times. Radley Balko of the Huffington Post tweeted the blog to his followers as did Ryan Ferguson’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner. All day, call and email floods targeting CPS were being spontaneously planned by Ferguson supporters across the country. Unfortunately, some of these calls and emails were reportedly hateful and borderline threatening. Keep Columbia Free does not condone hateful and/or threatening calls or emails to any person or group.
Friday 11.22.2013, late-morning: After receiving a flood of calls and emails denouncing Dr. Conrad’s decision and receiving a protest letter from the student staff of the school newspaper, Superintendent Belcher, his staff, and School Board Member Helen Wade meet with the newspaper staff and reach a compromise stating that Ryan Ferguson can visit the school before and/or after regular school hours.
The Local Media:
What we at Keep Columbia Free found quite amazing was the markedly lackluster reporting done by the local main-stream media. After Keep Columbia Free uncovered, researched, blogged, and tipped off the local MSM to the story, the role that we citizen journalists played was summarily ignored. Traditional journalists should be able to work peacefully, hand in hand, with citizen journalists, not against them.
Click HERE for the KOMU story that indicates the outrage came from thin air.
The Missourian also ignored the role of the citizen journalist. Read their account HERE
There are a few unanswered questions surrounding the original complaint(s) that prompted Dr. Conrad to ban Ryan from the school. Some of the media accounts linked above indicate that Dr. Conrad fielded complaints personally. The rather lengthy Missourian article makes it clear that the complaints were fielded by John White, the district’s safety and security director.
Conrad said she learned of the interview Wednesday afternoon when John White, the district’s director of safety and security, told her about parents objecting to Ryan Ferguson’s presence on campus.
White told her that parents contacted him to say they wouldn’t send their children to school Thursday if Ryan Ferguson were there.
Conrad said she expressed her concerns to the journalism teacher at Hickman. Later Wednesday night, Conrad talked with a student in the journalism class on the phone and further explained her reasoning.
This passage indicates a few interesting things.
First, Dr. Conrad didn’t know about the interview as of Wednesday morning. This would indicate that the plan to interview Ryan was not common knowledge around the school. This means that there was little likelihood of some sort of major disruption.
Second, Dr. Conrad found out about the complaints fielded by White on Wednesday morning and called off the interview by early Wednesday evening. This brings into question the notion that Dr. Conrad was overrun with concerned parents and students – enough to reasonably indicate that there would be a disruption if Ryan visited the campus.
Third, the complaints were fielded by Security Chief John White. White is a former officer of the Columbia Police Department, an agency with a great deal of time and emotion invested in the prosecution of Ryan Ferguson. Is there any formal record of these complaints?
Another source inside the Columbia Public Schools administration contacted Keep Columbia Free with some information regarding the source of the complaints which prompted the ban. Apparently the family of slain Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt was the source of the original complaint. This begs the question – How did the Heitholt family find out about the interview before Dr. Conrad?
As more information comes in, we will share it here. Stay tuned.