Salt Lake City School Board drama exposed in public records requests

Oct 20, 2020, 5:59 PM
salt lake city messages...
This text message, obtained in a public records request by a mother whose children attend Salt Lake City schools, featured foul language directed at the Salt Lake City School Board president from another board member. We have cropped the profanity out of the photo. Credit: Raina Williams

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Text messages and emails obtained through public records request by a parent show vitriol and profanity between members of the Salt Lake City School Board, and potential violations of open meetings laws. 

Public records request uncovers Salt Lake City discord

The incident was brought to light by Raina Williams, a mother of five children in the Salt Lake City School District. Williams filed a public records request asking for copies of all electronic communication between Salt Lake City School Board members. She provided KSL with copies of the texts and emails she obtained — dozens of pages in total. 

Williams says a lack of professionalism in board meetings led her to suspect that inappropriate behavior was going on behind the scenes. She believes the documents she obtained validated those suspicions.

Read some of the emails obtained by Williams here. More of the emails are located here

In one text message on July 21, 2020, board member Katherine Kennedy complained about the meeting running late. During the public meeting, Kennedy expressed her frustration out loud.

But behind the scenes, the text exchange from Kennedy to board president Melissa Ford documented a much more vitriolic sentiment.

salt lake city public records request text message

This text message, obtained in a public records request by a mother whose children attend Salt Lake City schools, featured foul language directed at the Salt Lake City School Board president from another board member. We have blacked out the profanity from the original message. Credit: Raina Williams

“You promised me,” one text reads, followed by, “You f***ing promised me,” and “I f***ing HATE YOU.”

The exchange concludes with two more texts: “I will never trust you again” and “You are not trustworthy.” 

The board voted that night to delay the start of school until after Labor Day–they did not vote on a back-to-school plan until more than a week later. 

Evidence of bullying? 

Williams says the text messages in the public records show Salt Lake City School Board members engaged in blatant bullying. 

“That’s one thing that the Salt Lake City School District has always promoted, is that we’re an anti-bullying school district,” Williams told Dave & Dujanovic. “Which is great, but then you see it happening at the top.”

Dave & Dujanovic reached out to the Salt Lake City School District, which declined to comment, instead reiterating they do not govern the school board. 

Open meetings violations? 

Williams said the public records point to evidence of open meetings violations within the Salt Lake City School Board. She noted the board’s own handbook, posted on the district website, lays out when members can communicate outside of an official meeting. 

“In order to comply with Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act, all communications regarding a matter which concerns the public’s business, such as adoption of a policy or budget, should take place in an authorized open Board meeting,” the policy states. “Such communications are strictly prohibited if the communication takes place outside of an authorized board meeting and the communication involves a quorum (or more) of Board members.” 

Four or more board members would be considered enough for a quorum.

salt lake city public records request

This screen shot shows the GRAMA, or public records request, Raina Williams sent to the Salt Lake City School District. Credit: Raina Williams

Williams said communications between board members addressed concerns that include “the public’s business.” They included presentations on possible reopening plans and more; all discussions Williams asserts should not have happened behind the scenes. 

Calling on some members to resign

Williams says she firmly believes some board members need to go.

“I think there absolutely should be resignations by quite a few people,” she said. “It’s clear that so many policies have been broken, as well as ethics. I don’t think it’s appropriate at all [for them to be] disparaging their own principals and stakeholders.”

The same board member, Kennedy, whose text messages raised bullying concerns above, spoke to KSL NewsRadio in August about a letter addressed to a parent voicing their concern over the Salt Lake City School District’s reopening plan.

In a portion of her letter, Kennedy wrote:

“Many of you have told me to read the CDC guidelines. I have read them. These are new CDC guidelines because our president did not like the original CDC guidelines. These new guidelines were not drafted by the CDC but by the Health and Human Services Department and were designed to put pressure on communities to open schools because President Trump believes it will help his campaign to do this. I will tell you that I don’t want him to win. There could be no worse outcome in November.”

Kennedy faced sharp criticism at the time for what many saw as bringing politics into the schools. 

The Salt Lake City School Board meets again Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. 

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Salt Lake City School Board drama exposed in public records requests