AT MABELVALE: Screenshot from video of altercation that led to principal's suspension.

 

AT MABELVALE: Screenshot from video of altercation that led to principal’s suspension.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning on the suspension of Rhonda Hall, Mabelvale Middle School principal, while the Little Rock School District reviews an allegation that she hit a student in the face while breaking up a student fight in January. The article omitted important details of how the story developed.

The first D-G article, on Tuesday, noted that the district “learned” June 18 of a video of Hall’s contact with a student, notified the Child Abuse Hotline and began a review.  A followup today indicated the district learned of the video and the alleged assault “through a blog.”

Advertisement

Better, but the article should have credited Orchestrating Change, the blog written by Elizabeth Lyon-Ballay, a crusader on education topics in Little Rock and elsewhere. The point is not only that major media as matter of courtesy should credit those who break stories. The full story is important for accountability of a government agency.

The Little Rock School District is not a fan of Lyon-Ballay’s work. She’s peppered them with FOI requests. She’s questioned managerial tactics of at least one other middle school principal (and gotten sued for it). She’s talked about cronyism both within the district and between the district and organizations with which it contracts.

The district has no copy of the school video itself and resisted providing information to her. Lyon-Ballay obtained a cell phone copy of the school’s security video before it disappeared, apparently made by a school staff member. Her publication of it forced action because she contradicted the official version of events — both from the school and in a police report — that the student hit the principal. The 14-year-old was charged with battery. The video seems to show an adult’s straight punch to a student’s face. Faced with that blog report, the district had no choice but to act and put the principal on paid leave. It has not, to my knowledge, acted except defensively to other points raised by Lyon-Ballay in a variety of articles. See her report on unusual credit card spending by one administrator as a particular example.

To hear LRSD and other of her targets tell it, the problem is not them but the blogger. Maybe they’re right. It’s just another reason to name the source.

Hall has declined comment but won’t be returning just yet as principal at Mabelvale, the district told the D-G.

Here’s Lyon-Ballay’s original article June 18, which included the police report cited in today’s D-G account. It recounts how the principal had stepped in to break up a student fight  and then appeared, in the video, to punch one student, though the police account says the student punched the principal. The article also goes into some detail on the search for LRSD video, with little help from district security.

Advertisement

Fact: Without the whistleblower who provided the copy of this video and Lyon-Ballay’s Orchestrating Change, this story never would have seen the light of day. School officials may eventually conclude appearances are not what they seem, but that’s all the more reason to identify sourcing.

The same blogger’s work, I believe, contributed to the state Board of Education finally putting Haas Hall’s feet to the fire on their failure to diversify the student body of the high-scoring charter school.

I’ve mentioned Lyon-Ballay before. Her obsession and persistence unearth interesting things. The information may not always add up so easily as she sometimes concludes, but that doesn’t mean intertwined relationships at the district and in the statewide education establishment aren’t interesting on their face.

Give her some credit, D-G. Or blame. As newspapers die, we need all the voices we can get. Orchestrating Change is free, by the way, not $400 a year.