In the days of social media, where news is frequently confused with gossip, it’s difficult to be faced with stories where the line is blurred.
Such was the case with the Shining Rock Classical Academy stories we ran over the past week.
Typically, journalists rely on official government documents or news gathered at public meetings as a jump-off point to begin digging into issues of public concern.
The past two stories we’ve written on the lone public charter school in Haywood County were slim on both accounts, largely because they centered on personnel complaints that aren’t considered public records.
Whether certain types of personnel complaints should be legally opened to public scrutiny is another matter entirely — for now, they aren’t.
That left recent stories about Shining Rock hinging on a lot of “he-said, she-said” quotes about current and former leadership.
Earlier, when parents of three special education students came to The Mountaineer with detailed complaints about how poorly their children were treated at Shining Rock, we made it clear to them that the school had a process for resolving such complaints and encouraged them to at least bring the complaints up at the monthly board meetings we always cover.
The families chose to simply remove their children from the school and do nothing that would formally notify the Shining Rock board that there could be problems with how special needs children were treated.
In recent stories where parents complained directly to another publication about the interim school director who had applied for the top job, we were in a similar situation.
No grievance had officially been filed with the school, so technically the parents would be airing their beef in the media while Shining Rock’s board members would be hamstrung because they couldn’t comment on personnel issues.
The Mountaineer’s story ran only after a formal grievance was filed, and only after we ensured the story could give equal weight to those supporting the interim director, not just those bashing him.
Monday’s story about a former employee’s sexual harassment grievance against the former school director, which ultimately led to his firing, was also a hard one for us.
It was mostly a lop-sided story with one party publicly airing grievances, the accused indicating he was unable to speak about the issue because of a legal agreement and the school offering a statement that didn’t directly address the issue.
In the end, we decided that offering an explanation on why a second school director was abruptly gone from his job in the middle of a school year justified the story.
The fact the Shining Rock board fired its school director and while leaving the complainant in her position was another indication the board’s inquiry could have led to the mid-school leadership disruption.
While it certainly is salacious to have a blow-by-blow account of how individuals feel about situations they encounter, there isn’t enough news space — or resources — to provide a play-by-play for every dirty laundry story someone wants to air.
In the case of Shining Rock, there will certainly be more news stories to tell — ones The Mountaineer has regularly covered in the past, and ones that are based on quantifiable measures.
Hard numbers show that students are being pulled from the school by their parents, and that there’s no longer a big waiting list to get a spot in the school.
Board meetings capture the debates over whether to expand into high school grades, and then there’s the annual test scores that show how the school is performing with the public funds it receives to operate.
Nearly lost in the fray if not for our coverage was the board’s decision to spend $35,000 to $40,000 on a marketing director, something that could possibly be construed as spending money on “spin over substance” amid such turmoil.
Keep reading. With more than $3 million in public tax dollars going to Shining Rock, and most its students eventually finding their way back into Haywood County Schools — either by choice or when they hit high school — its success or failures ultimately impact the entire community.