Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Willful Blindness: How Fox C-6 School Board Leaders Have Turned a Blind Eye!

A new TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan truly hits home as to what has been going on in the Fox C-6 School District for quite some time. Her TED Talk is titled, The Dangers of Willful Blindness. She has a very powerful message with regard to Willful Blindness and how it can harm a community or an institution such as a school system.

So, what is Willful Blindness?

Margaret Heffernan describes it very well at 5:50 into her TED Talk presentation:
This wasn't ignorance. It was willful blindness. Willful blindness is a legal concept which means, if there's information that you could know and you should know but you somehow manage not to know, the law deems that you're willfully blind. You have chosen not to know. There's a lot of willful blindness around these days.

How true her statements are about how our school board has been Willfully Blind for quite some time. When school leaders turn a blind eye and willfully choose not to know, they can do a lot of harm to the community and to their own reputation. Willful blindness also applies to the community for not speaking up about the problems that they see in our school district that have been going on for a number of years. I know that most people who work for the school district are too afraid to say anything for fear of losing their jobs. And, people in our community are afraid to say anything for fear of retaliation. Ignoring these problems has kept our school district from achieving the academic success that many other school districts in the area have achieved such as Rockwood, Parkway, Lindbergh, Clayton and Ladue.

When our school leaders are spending a lot of time and money trying to get around the law, they aren't doing the jobs they were hired and paid to do. In turn, our students and children aren't being provided the same opportunities that students are given in other districts that have higher academic achievement. It's our job as parents and patrons of the school district to always be watching and learning what other school districts are doing and let our school board know how they are doing. We can't let our board count on getting the information only from our superintendent. She has told me several times that they don't do what I say they do in other districts. You need to go and look for yourself.  Learn what they are doing in other districts. Share that information and work towards bringing a positive change to our district. Visit their websites and download their documents. Find out how open they are with their parents and community. Our school board and administrators don't even take the time to check our own district website to see if our documents are even there, if the spelling or grammar is correct, or if our calendar days add up on our district calendars. Our totals didn't add up, and after I informed them the district removed the totals from the calendar.

The public has been told numerous times that our superintendent and central office administrators and school board are doing such a great job without providing any substantial data to back up those claims. It's all about generalities. That's why it's important that you speak up and ask why isn't Fox achieving the same level of academic achievements and accolades as other districts. Fox brags about being a National District of Character on almost every document it sends out. Yet, you don't see that near as often at other National District of Characters such as Lindbergh. There you will see some great academic achievements. You need a leader that will inspire. Not one that will threaten you for voicing your concerns. Ask our school board why they are paying our superintendent more money than the superintendents of the schools that have achieved much higher academic accomplishments than Fox.

Don't be Willfully Blind as to what is going on!
Our school board has also been Willfully Blind to information that has been provided to them numerous times over the past 5 years and yet decided to do nothing. Our school board allowed our superintendent to spend $510,473 in legal fees over the past 5 years as she and school district attorneys have taken every possible effort to get around the law.

Finally, the USDA after giving Fox C-6 and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MO DESE) more than 2 years to comply with their August 18, 2011 Final Agency Decision has finally stepped in and put an end to their charades and legal delays. It's good to see the USDA finally stepping in and enforcing the law. Superintendent Dianne Critchlow and Assistant Superintendent Dan Baker never mentioned the fact that the school district was denied their appeal of the USDA Final Agency Decision on August 15, 2012 and was given a 30 day notice to comply or have the ruling handed over to the U.S. Department of Justice. Mr. Baker also never mentioned the fact that all of the recent changes made by the district were the result of MO DESE telling the district that they had to comply with Section 504 law because MO DESE was told by the USDA that they had to ensure that Fox complied with the law because the USDA gives the state a lot of money for the school lunch program.

It's been amazing to see the 180 degree turnaround by both our school district and MO DESE since the new USDA National Director for Civil Rights for Food Nutrition Services told the state that they must comply with their Regulations and Guidelines.

The school district's legal counsel has been stating for years that they don't have to follow USDA Regulations and Guidelines because they aren't law. Well, they are the interpretation of the law and things have changed! There hasn't been a USDA National Director for Civil Rights for Food Nutrition Services for more than 2 years. Therefore rulings weren't being handled as vigorously as they could have he said. The new National Director for Civil Rights is now very much engaged and will be working to ensure that both our state and our school district becomes compliant with Section 504 law and the USDA Regulations and Guidelines.

Because our school board has been Willfully Blind and looked the other way for the past 5 years, it has cost Fox C-6 taxpayers a lot of money. The arrogance of our superintendent and other administrators and school district attorneys allowed them to believe that their wrong doings would never catch up with them. Problems that have been going on for nearly a decade in our state are finally been reigned in. These changes will also be seen on a national level as well. The USDA is working on rewriting its Regulations and Guidelines so they are less ambiguous so attorneys find fewer ways to get around the law.

One of the important points made by Margaret Heffernan in her TED Talk is what she says she learned from the people she interviewed in doing her research on Willful Blindness:
What the research shows is that some people are blind out of fear. They're afraid of retaliation. And some people are blind because they think, well, seeing anything is just futile. Nothing's ever going to change. If we make a protest, if we protest against the Iraq War, nothing changes, so why bother? Better not to see this stuff at all.

And the recurrent theme that I encounter all the time is people say, "Well, you know, the people who do see, they're whistleblowers, and we all know what happens to them." So there's this profound mythology around whistleblowers which says, first of all, they're all crazy. But what I've found going around the world and talking to whistleblowers is, actually, they're very loyal and quite often very conservative people. They're hugely dedicated to the institutions that they work for, and the reason that they speak up, the reason they insist on seeing, is because they care so much about the institution and want to keep it healthy. 
And the other thing that people often say about whistleblowers is, "Well, there's no point, because you see what happens to them. They are crushed. Nobody would want to go through something like that." And yet, when I talk to whistleblowers, the recurrent tone that I hear is pride.
It has been a long 5 years dealing with an arrogant superintendent and an unresponsive school board. We contacted the school board back in April 2010 and received no response. Then we contacted the board in January 2012 after the USDA issued its Final Agency Decision in August 2011 and received no response. Then we contacted the board in July 2012 only to receive a response from the school district attorney stating that the district had appealed the USDA's Final Agency Decision and that was the last time the district would respond. Then in August 2012, the district sent a Cease and Desist letter that again reiterated that the school district had already resolved the matter. However, this letter was sent after the district had been denied their appeal and had been given a 30 day notice to comply or have the matter handed over to the U.S. Department of Justice. It certainly appears that the Fox C-6 School Board has been practicing Willful Blindness.

At 11:45 into Margaret Heffernan's presentation, she speaks about the freedom to write and publish without fear of censorship. Superintendent Critchlow has used taxpayer dollars in an attempt to keep parents and patrons in our district from speaking up about issues that need to be addressed by our school board by sending out Cease and Desist letters. She has created "memory holes" in school board meeting minutes by leaving out any details of Public Comments that she finds unfavorable for her or the school board. Our school board has been Willfully Blind on this matter as well by approving the minutes with Public Comments documented only as "concerns within the district". Writing to our school board concerning this practice resulted in a response from Superintendent Critchlow stating that the minutes met state law. As a taxpayer, you are not being allowed to know what is going on within our district. This violates school board policies. As Margaret Heffernan states below, those of us that are working to right the wrongs in our district are very determined and persistent despite our Superintendent's retaliatory comments and abuse of power.
We all enjoy so many freedoms today, hard-won freedoms: the freedom to write and publish without fear of censorship, a freedom that wasn't here the last time I came to Hungary; a freedom to vote, which women in particular had to fight so hard for; the freedom for people of different ethnicities and cultures and sexual orientation to live the way that they want. But freedom doesn't exist if you don't use it, and what whistleblowers do, and what people like Gayla Benefield do is they use the freedom that they have. And what they're very prepared to do is recognize that yes, this is going to be an argument, and yes I'm going to have a lot of rows with my neighbors and my colleagues and my friends, but I'm going to become very good at this conflict. I'm going to take on the naysayers, because they'll make my argument better and stronger. I can collaborate with my opponents to become better at what I do. These are people of immense persistence, incredible patience, and an absolute determination not to be blind and not to be silent.
Our Superintendent and school board are now having to answer to a federal agency and possibly to the Department of Justice for their past actions. It is impossible to keep the facts and the truth from the public forever. It has taken an enormous amount of persistence and patience to get to this point. So, it is very rewarding to see the USDA finally taking steps to correct things not only in our school district but also in our state. The USDA has informed the district that what they were doing was "not legal". It was also good to hear the National Director of Civil Rights tell me that our superintendent was incorrect in saying that the matter with the USDA was "in litigation" at the June 2013 school board meeting. He said in order for it to be "in litigation", someone would have had to file a lawsuit and none have been filed. It's just another nice way for our Superintendent to keep information from the public by saying things are "in litigation". This is another Willful Blindness that our school board continually practices by ignoring or looking the other way to all of the false and misleading statements Superintendent Critchlow makes all the time.

Margaret Heffernan also wrote an article that I highly recommend reading which was published in the Ivey Business Journal titled:

This article discusses why leaders choose to ignore things that need to be seen. The chief among the culprits is power. The other theme that you will notice that plays a huge problem with our school district leadership is something you will most likely notice about our school leadership:
Leaders of organizations inhabit a bubble of power, of which Fuld’s commute is a magnificent physical representation. They’re either isolated or surrounded by those desperate to please. The powerful also communicate differently. Academic analysis of their language shows that, confronted by risky situations, the powerful think in more abstract terms, are more optimistic and more certain that they are right. They’re both mentally and physically cut off from the reality most people would recognize.
It is one thing to just throw out general statements of success and achievement as our superintendent often does. It is another to be able to back up those statements and claims with hard data such as MAP scores and ACT Composite Scores and Percentage of Students taking the ACT. That is something that Fox just can't compare yet to those other districts. Yet her salary for last year made her the 4th highest paid public school superintendent in the state of Missouri.

Our school board takes advantage of the Willful Blindness of the community by not publishing data on the district website such as school budgets, audio or video recordings of school board meetings or prior years school board packets. Superintendent Critchlow doesn't want the community to have this information because it exposes things that she and the district simply don't want you to know. If you don't know about these things, you won't be asking questions. That's how our superintendent has been able to keep her job thus far! Maybe you should ask our school board a few questions to see what they have to say about how much money they've spent on legal fees over the last 5 years. I have. I asked Dan Smith last December about this issue after the school board meeting.  I still haven't received a response!