Dear Members of the Board, Dr. Beresford and other members of the administration,
As I’m sure you are aware, a video created by an anti-public-school activist organization is making the rounds. It features hidden camera footage taken by individuals who met with administrators at various schools around Indiana. These individuals posed as couples who were gay or had gay or trans children who were considering enrolling their children within the relevant school system. They presented administrators with concerns about how their families would be treated, secretly recorded the conversations and then released a highly edited video of select comments stripped of the context of the questions the administrators were responding to.
As I’m sure you also are aware, our own Terri Roberts-Leonard was featured in this video, explaining the structure of the CCS equity and inclusion team to a pair of individuals posing as gay parents of a potential new student. Of course, nothing she said was news to anyone who’s bothered to pay attention to any of her previous presentations, videos she’s recorded or the CCS website. Yet still, we have members of our community who are trying to malign our schools by purposefully misrepresenting the contents of the video, which itself is already a misrepresentation of any and all conversations it features.
I would like to draw your attention to several related comments made publicly by specific parties that have long been part of the ongoing attacks on CCS. I do this because I believe their comments may actually rise to the level of being libelous.
First, we have a post by our local Moms 4 Liberty group, authored by member Shelly Stewart.
While I am not an attorney, my understanding of Indiana law is that a statement is considered to be libelous if someone publishes a defamatory accusation against an individual that they know to be false. Usually, there must also be damages associated with the claim, but in Indiana, an accusation of misconduct in a person’s profession or occupation constitutes defamation per se.
The graphic shared and likely created by Moms 4 Liberty and Ms. Stewart states that school officials say that CRT is in Indiana schools. The video they are referencing does not include any administrator, let alone Ms. Roberts-Leonard, saying that. Furthermore, the graphic features Ms. Roberts-Leonard’s name, highlighted with an arrow, clearly with the intent of falsely implying she is one of the school officials who made such a statement, despite the fact that her comments were mere repetition of what she has publicly stated on many previous occasions.
Next, we have a post by non-Carmel resident and far-right activist, Micah Beckwith.
Mr. Beckwith’s comments are a bit different in that he does not mention Ms. Roberts-Leonard by name, but he does falsely claim both that the tape shows that CRT is being taught and that administrators admit to it. Given the broadness of his false claims and the fact that he provides a direct link to the video that contains Ms. Roberts-Leonard, I think it at least within the realm of possibility that his comments also rise to the level of being libelous.
The repeated attacks against our schools and their teachers & staff are unfortunately showing no signs of abating. We saw the Brake, Brown & Sharp campaign make such attacks during their 2022 campaign. According to this article, current board member Greg Brown even regretfully admitted to allowing his campaign to send out a false message to voters, saying if he could do it again, he wouldn’t. But to the best of my knowledge, he’s made no apology to our teachers or community, and has taken no public action to help heal some of the division he willfully sowed. I fully expect that in 2024, he will actively campaign for whatever two candidates his movement of malicious malcontents convinces to run for the at-large seats on the board.
It's no surprise that these latest, potentially libelous comments were made by parties that endorsed the Brake, Brown & Sharp campaign. Throughout the election season, Ms. Stewart was among those who supported those candidates by repeatedly, enthusiastically spreading misinformation on their behalf.
I realize that actually bringing suit against private citizens would be a very significant action for CCS, but the sustained misinformation spread by these parties is doing very real damage to our schools and our community at large. I also realize that proving defamation is a high bar to clear, but by attacking Ms. Roberts-Leonard directly with such blatantly false statements, there seems to be a good chance that the standard has been met.
Given that this specific, most recent instance is so particularly egregious, I would urge you to at least meet with CCS’s counsel to determine whether the actions rise to the level of being actionable. If they do, the district availing itself of its rights under our legal system may well be just what our community needs to end, or at least significantly curtail, these ongoing attacks.
Additionally, as these recent attacks were made in public, I feel that they should be rebutted in public as well. To help achieve this, I have posted this communication as an open letter on a website I have started to push back against misinformation spread by those who are attacking our schools at a local and state level. You can view that copy of the letter at: https://www.carmelschoolsdad.com/post/an-open-letter-to-ccs-april-14-2023.
Lastly, I would like to close by thanking Ms. Roberts-Leonard for her continued grace and poise, as well as all the work she does on behalf of making our schools a safer and more welcoming place for all students. I know that many parents are deeply grateful for your efforts and I sincerely hope that you hear from a lot of them in the wake of this latest ridiculous, false attack.