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Our View: Half-truths and denials only breed mistrust

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What is going on with the Sumner County school district?

Once again, they find themselves in a position where their unwillingness to be open and transparent has created doubt and a lack of trust.

In this latest situation, the school district has released its own sanitized version of a potentially volatile situation only to have it contradicted by the actual facts.

It has many of us in the news media (who uncovered those facts) scratching our heads and wondering if we can trust anything the Sumner County Board of Education tells us.

Judging from several social media posts, many parents, students and even a few teachers are wondering the same thing.

At issue is the district's response to a Feb. 16 fight at Gallatin High School. Almost immediately, students texted parents and posted to social media about a gang related brawl in which several adults were injured.

A school spokesman fielded media calls, telling each one the fight was not gang related and that no teachers or resource officers were injured. Nearly a dozen students were disciplined according to district policy, and three were charged with assault.

Only after obtaining an incident report from the Sumner County Sheriff's Office two weeks after it was requested did we learn of the severity of the fight.

When asked why his initial statements seemed to blatantly contradict the report, the spokesman said he didn't immediately have all of the information. Only after authorities investigated did he learn the fight was gang related, and that an assistant principal later sought medical care for his injuries.

He never explained why he didn't try to set the record straight after all the facts were in.

We find it hard to believe he didn't know the fight was gang related since, according to the incident report, the principal said he heard one of the students claim to be a leader of a gang as he left the building.

But let's assume the spokesman didn't know. Wouldn't that also mean he didn't know it was NOT gang related either?

Why not just say that authorities are investigating and offer to provide more information as it becomes available?

Something similar happened just two months earlier involving Station Camp High School's basketball team. The team forfeited a championship tournament game in Lexington, Ky., in December. When a reporter started asking why a key player was off the team and others were sitting out a game, he began to hear whispers of a hazing incident.

In a comment to a reporter, the spokesman labeled it "more in the realm of horseplay."


Then why was one player dismissed from the team and others suspended for two games after the incident took place? The parents of those student-athletes should be outraged if their children were so publicly reprimanded for nothing more than horseplay.

Both of these instances give the appearance of a cover up on the school system's part.

Why not give as much accurate information as possible at the time to those asking for it?

Of course, this is the same school district that has spent more than $250,000 tied to a lawsuit to defend their right to not accept open record requests via email.

So, not only is the school district refusing to be open and honest about very serious issues that impact the safety of students, they are also spending taxpayer money to make it more difficult for us to know what is really happening.

This is not the behavior our school district should be modeling for our students. Nor is it the type of behavior anyone who has a stake in our school system - parents, teachers, taxpayers - deserves.

Kids make mistakes. We all do. But no one benefits from whitewashing or minimizing their actions.

If we have a problem in our schools, we should work with the community and local police to address the issue, don't try to hide it.

Half-truths and denials breed mistrust. And in the end, hiding or sanitizing the truth benefits no one.

The Main Street Media of Tennessee editorial board is comprised of Publisher Dave Gould, Editor Sherry Mitchell and reporters Tena Lee and Josh Cross.

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