(11/20/15 Update: The recording teacher’s name (Summer Martin) was added. Her name appeared in the investigator’s July report. Her husband’s email, which had been forwarded to Mike Looney and obtained through a public records request, was added.)
Part 1: The Launching of an Investigation
The investigation into a September meeting held by Hillsboro School educators is nearly complete. We have many unanswered questions, including about the investigation itself and how it started.
About a dozen citizens met after work in a park in September. They discussed issues facing Williamson County Schools and talked about the newly-elected school board. They were teachers and administrators who were not at work and not on work time. One teacher (Summer Martin) secretly recorded their conversation. Then, six months later, a school board member and others pushed this covertly-made recording out through the media.
Did the school board react by instructing its members that this was an inappropriate thing for an elected official to do? No—at least not from what we can see in the public record. Instead, some board members pushed for and launched an investigation, now two months (and thousands of dollars) long, into the educators’ political discussion on their own time many months prior.
Why did the teacher (Summer Martin) make the recording?
We don’t know. She, Julie West, Michael DelGiorno, Victoria Jackson, and J. Lee Douglas have all said she (covertly) made the recording for note-taking purposes.
However, according to letters from J.C. Bowman from the group PET (Professional Educators of Tennessee) and from 912 President J. Lee Douglas, there are other recordings. Bowman, in an April 8 letter to the board, said he listened to “three separate recordings from three separate educators, at three different schools.” We do not know what (or who) prompted this note-taking nor how all three ended up with PET and the 912 Project.
How did the recording end up on the radio?
On 3/30, Susan Curlee approached the Williamson Herald about a secretly-recorded audio of teachers. She said the audio would be available on 4/2.
On 4/2, Bobby Curlee (school board member Susan Curlee’s husband) uploaded a video to YouTube. It was audio plus slides with language against Williamson Strong. He called it “The Agenda Revealed: Williamson Strong.” Someone also uploaded it under an anonymous user name that same day. The audio was edited. Julie West stated on the Michael DelGiorno show on Friday, April 3, “Part of it we had to cut out for time sake and noise.” The ACLU letter stated, “The version of the audio released removed context from certain statements and deleted any references that the meeting was held off campus.”
On 4/2, WTN 99.7 aired portions of the edited audio on the Ralph Bristol show and the Michael DelGiorno show. Both Bristol and DelGiorno made false statements, including calling it a Williamson Strong meeting (naming us as attendees) and calling it a “mandatory” teachers’ meeting. We were not at this meeting. We did not organize the meeting and were not there. Bristol said the audio had been sent to him overnight by Julie West, President of the group Parents for Truth in Education and leader of the Williamson County Homeschool Coalition.
The ‘recording teacher’ (Summer Martin) herself did not put the recording on the radio.
Her husband called into the Ralph Bristol show on 4/2 (the first time it was aired) and said his wife
“…forgot about it until last week when she was going through her phone and she started listening to it and was a little more familiar with the politics involved and then we, uh, we turned it in. “
Three days later, however, the recording teacher (Summer Martin), when asking for paid leave, wrote:
“A voice recording has been released on YouTube and played on a public radio station. I had no knowledge of this until I heard the recording myself. I made the recording for my own use to complete the notes I was taking for the meeting. Regardless, the recording is now public and the facts and activities contained therein are under investigation.”
Her husband later wrote to Ralph Bristol and Michael DelGiorno:
“It wasn’t our decision to release the tape on the radio, but we didn’t object because we wanted to do the right thing. We’ve found though that there is no fall-out plan.”
When was the investigation started?
On the day the audio was aired on WTN 99.7 and posted on YouTube – April 2, 2015. Mark Gregory. PJ Mezera, and Susan Curlee approached Dr. Looney on 4/2 and asked “that an investigation be launched into a meeting of teachers at Hillsboro School where they were alleged to have discussed the newly elected school board’s leadership.” (Williamson Herald, 4/23/15)
What triggered the investigation?
According to contemporaneous news reports, the investigation was initially requested by Curlee, Mezera, and Gregory and was based on their “complaints about the audio” itself. (Williamson Herald, 4/9/15 and Williamson Herald, 4/23/15)
Based on what is available via public record, the investigation was launched prior to any official communication from the teacher (Summer Martin) regarding this audio.
Recently, Mezera stated: “The board members screamed for an investigation. That precipitated it.”
What were board members told about the audio?
We have to wonder what board members were told about this audio and by whom to kick off the investigation. Were they told a version that was on the radio – that it was a mandatory teachers’ meeting during the school day at school led by Williamson Strong? What was the commentary they received? Did they ask questions? Did they receive the version of the audio that Bobby Curlee uploaded which contained false information about it being a Williamson Strong parent-led meeting?
If so, who gave the board that false narrative?
Wasn’t it all in response to a complaint from the teacher (Summer Martin) who recorded it?
The teacher (Summer Martin) sent a letter to the school board dated April 5, three days after the investigation was already under way.
The teacher (Summer Martin), in her letter, did not say the meeting was mandatory. She did not say she was “coerced” to attend. She did not say she had encountered a “hostile work environment” prior to the audio being broadcast. (She projected that it would be hostile due to the airing itself, but she did not return to school after 4/2.) She specifically wrote that “every person in attendance was a Hillsboro employee. No parents or community members were invited.” She said it was after work and not at school.
So how did that story about it being a mandatory meeting led by Williamson Strong get started? What were board members told to get the wheels of investigation turning? Did all 12 board members agree to the investigation? Was there a vote?
It is clear that Williamson Strong’s alleged involvement as well as many other facts about this meeting were misrepresented from the beginning, not by the teacher (Summer Martin) who recorded the meeting but by those who pushed her recording out to the media.
We hope the taxpayer-funded investigation has explored the circumstances around the reason for this emergency investigation about a meeting recorded six months prior.