SHOW OF FORCE: Some of the police at Thursday's School Board meeting
LESLIE FISKEN: Reported threat.
The Little Rock School Board
met Thursday night on how to proceed with its effort to improve schools in academic distress and avoid a state Board of Education takeover.
There was a heavy police presence at Thursday night's meeting. This is how KATV reported it
Seven uniformed Little Rock Police officers lined the LRSD boardroom at Thursday night's meeting, all the result of threats made against school board member Leslie Fisken, the member who sent a letter to the state earlier in the week urging ADE to take over the district.
This is serious business. A threat on a public official is intolerable. The presence of a large contingent of armed police also has a chilling effect on a public meeting.
So what happened?
I heard two different accounts of the reason for the police presence, both from people who attended a state Board of Education hearing on the district earlier in the day. One said he'd been told Fisken had been "verbally assaulted" by a person attending the hearing. Another, however, said a person attending the meeting had spoken, in earshot of others, to Fisken. The person said Fisken shouldn't have sent her solo letter critical of other school board members. By this account, Fisken wasn't threatened, merely criticized.
Fisken didn't respond to my e-mail asking for her account of events.
Board President Greg Adams
also refused to provide any details.
My memory is that I said we had a security concern, that safety of our students, staff and others involved in the district was our highest priority, and I did not give any further details and would not. I stand by that as I don't wish to make a difficult situation more difficult or a security concern a greater security concern. The police presence was arranged by the administration and I was informed that police would be present.
Superintendent Dexter Suggs
didn't respond to my request for what prompted the administration's call for police.
Police Lt. Sidney Allen
said the police actually had 10 officers at the meeting. This is a monumental investment of manpower for a city that has some real crime problems. He said there was no incident report on the dispatch or a filed report of a threat by Fisken. He said there were no written communications between anyone at the department about the deployment. Why then, were the police there?
They went at the request of LRSD in expectations of a large crowd.
Large crowd or threat? 10 cops for a crowd?
If a threat was made on a School Board member there should be more than additional security at a Board meeting. There should be an investigation and a prosecution. If a School Board member perceives criticism as a threat, she perhaps should get another line of work than service on a controversy-enmeshed school board.
If the leaders of the School District have helped propagate the notion that a threat was made on a School Board member without credible evidence this occurred, they should be ashamed of themselves.
Fisken has defended Superintendent Suggs as the answer to the district's problems, if only obstructionists would get out of the way. It is worth remembering that the principals in charge of the six failing Little Rock school were chosen by Suggs as leaders. It is worth remembering that he has grown, not reduced, administrative ranks, including with hires of people whose references at other jobs probably should have gotten more intensive checking. The School District may indeed be ripe for takeover, but Dexter Suggs hasn't demonstrated he's any less culpable than many parties — including all of us — for the poor performance of many students.