KATY (FOX 26) - It's still not clear who really decided to stop video taping Katy ISD's work study meetings, but it is clear that the district wanted to cover up the controversy to avoid public exposure. From January emails requested by FOX 26, there's evidence that the administration was trying to quiet its critics.
"Nobody in there knew that that work study was not going to be recorded," says Katy ISD School Board President in February, saying he made the decision to change a years-old practice all by himself.
But the first email on the topic, found in January, came from the school board secretary, Sharon Nowak on January 6th.
From: Nowak, Sharon, L (SUPT OFF)
Subject: New Law in Place as of January 1
In accordance with House Bill 283, we are recording only Regular Meetings from this point forward. I have notified our technology folks and Swagit. I will change the signs I place on the Board Room doors for meetings. I am adding the language below (that comes from the statute) to our agendas. I wanted to be sure you folks know about this, as you might very well receive questions or inquiries. Thanks.
In accordance with state statute, effective January 1, 2016, Katy ISD will make a video and audio recording of each regularly scheduled open meeting that is not a work session or a special called meeting and post the recording online.
Secretary for Board Services
Katy Independent School District
Katy ISD tells FOX 26 Nowak was communicating the decision already made by Griffin by telephone, but the email doesn't tell anyone on her distribution list where the decision came from. It does explain that the district is pulling back on transparency because it can, and still be in compliance with minimum standards set by state law.
In one of Griffin's responses in the email thread he says: "I might get push back from the board. Let's go with the new law and see how goes it."
After January's work study meeting wasn't recorded, Nowak started receiving complaints. Board Member Rebecca Fox wrote to her, thinking it was a technology error, but Griffin later informed her the district stopped recording work studies because it's not required to by law.
Rebecca Fox responds in an email and says in part, "President Griffin, I am disappointed to learn we are not video taping the work study meetings, and that the decision was made without knowledge or input from trustees."
Griffin is a trustee too, so Ms. Fox seems to imply the decision came from the administration. She doesn't name names, but that would be from Superintendent Alton Frailey.
Meanwhile Nowak gets two emails on January 19th from people unhappy with the change. One is from Laura Freeman, President of the Katy ISD council of PTA's. Freeman asks Nowak to forward her email to all board members, but Nowak sends it only to Griffin.
Then Nowak forwards to Griffin a complaint from a district employee with this note:
"We can inquire as to having presentations recorded if you like; and you can also find out if you have a Board member going around telling people to write in. If that’s the case then that is a poor choice, in my opinion."
In other words, the School Board Secretary is telling the School Board President to quiet the dissension.
But in February, Griffin had excuses as to why other school board members weren't notified. Here was our exchange during a news conference:
Watkins: Before the story became public, I understand it started to leak out to some people. Some were already sending emails to the board saying, 'What are you doing?' and the board wasn't able to find out about this. They were kept in the dark perhaps?
Griffin: I can't call them up.
Watkins: I know but in an email then?
Griffin: No. That's a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
That hardly seems like it would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, but Freeman had to send her email to all board members herself, to get the message across. It was a long letter, but in it she writes about public perception.
"They think y'all only make the decisions you make because Mr. Frailey tells you to vote that way," Freeman says in the letter. "The Work Study meeting is the only place that y'all can look like you have your own brain and voice and get to use it."
Freeman also says the timing of this change is suspicious.
"By removing the Work Study videos mid-school year, it looks like the board is trying to cover up something," Freeman says.
The school board did resume recordings in February, but is there a cover up?
First, FOX 26 had a hard time getting Katy ISD to honor our Public Information Request. We didn't received the emails we requested until after we reported the district's response was several days overdue. When when we did received them, Katy ISD left out more than 2 dozen emails FOX 26 was expecting.
Friday the district claimed the missing emails were all duplicates. Monday the district found, and sent to us, documentation of few emails not in the original batch. But there are still 16 emails they insist were duplicates, that we have not received.