Media: 1, Hartford school officials: 0

Hartford school officials would not allow the media to cover a potentially controversial meeting Monday where a discussion was expected on the mid-year reshuffling of principals.

“Please be advised that this evening’s meeting of the Classical Magnet School Governance Council parents with Superintendent [Christina] Kishimoto is closed to the press,” read the statement that went out to the media just before the meeting.

The school governance council is a group of parents, teachers and members of the community.

By Wednesday, a followup statement was e-mailed to reporters saying the meeting should have been open.

“The meeting was considered a public meeting. This was our error,” a spokesman wrote.

But the reversal was based largely on a technicality. Because the meeting was announced as a governance council meeting, which are established by state law in dozens of schools across the state, it must be open to the public.

It remains to be seen if the district will open other community meetings to the press. The statement released Wednesday by the district doesn’t provide much hope.

“It was the intention of the district to hold a private meeting… that would not fall under the [Freedom of Information Act’s] definition of a public meeting,” David Medina wrote.

This is not the first time the Hartford school system has debated whether these school governance councils should be open to the public. These councils were created to give parents the collective ability to have a louder voice for the decisions being made in their child’s failing schools, a process often referred to as the “parent trigger.”

During the Hartford school board’s October meeting, members were notified that those named to participate in these councils would not be made public, nor would notification of their meetings. The reasoning given by officials was that parents might be reluctant to be straightforward with their concerns about a school if they knew that members of the media and officials from the district was watching.

A spokesman from the State Department of Education said at the time that he thought the names of parents on these boards should be available to the public and that meetings should be open to whomever wants to attend, including members of the media.

A Hartford Courant reporter and blogger over at Real Hartford attempted to attend the meeting Monday and were both turned away. Another meeting last week at another Hartford school also was intended to be closed to the press, though a blogger over at Real Hartford was able to attend and has some interesting insight into the reasoning the meeting was closed.

A similar event took place in New Haven last May, where a spokesman was videotaped restricting a New Haven Independent reporter from attending a meeting where officials were discussing with parents the intention of a private company to take over management of a local school. Asked when the press would be brought into the loop, the spokesman said, “When this process is complete, at that point we will be transparent.”

As Diane Orson with WNPR notes in a recent radio piece, some school districts have a hard time accepting that they can’t always control their message to the media.