Ankeny superintendent apologizes for reporter’s experience at school board meeting

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By Chris Higgins, Des Moines Register

Ankeny school district superintendent apologized to a local TV reporter for her experience as she was covering a school board meeting Monday evening.

“On behalf of myself and the Ankeny Community School District, I would like to formally apologize to KCCI reporter Lauren Johnson for her experience at our board meeting on Monday, April 4,” Superintendent Erick Pruitt said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

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The school board meeting came days after a social media flurry over the disappearance of a job posting for a diversity specialist in the district. A large group of community members came to the meeting for an explanation. In the statement, Pruitt said the district was not prepared.

Johnson, who is Black, wrote on Twitter Monday night that she was not allowed into the room after the meeting hit capacity. As of Wednesday evening, her tweet had been shared more than 3,000 times and “liked” more than 12,000 times.

Johnson wrote that a district official came out to speak to her, told her that she was being loud and that she would have the watch the meeting on a livestream.

“Shame on Ankeny for trying to keep a Black reporter out of the room during a meeting that was literally about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Johnson wrote. “I hope no reporter ever feels the hurt and embarrassment I felt tonight. Journalists of color should never have to feel like they don’t belong in a space while trying to do their job. All communities need journalism, period.”

Johnson’s thread inspired massive outcry on Twitter, where Ankeny became a trending topic with thousands of tweets. In a statement, the Iowa Association of Black Journalists called the situation “reprehensible, anti-democratic” and an impediment on the rights of a free press.

The statement said that “loud” was a coded phrase used to describe Black people who speak up and express themselves. Johnson was later allowed into the meeting. District officials met with Johnson and a KCCI director this week.

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Pruitt said Johnson and others were asked to wait in the lobby until space became available in the board room after a presentation about Copan, a student exchange program with a school in Mexico. The goal was to comply with fire code, per advice from the fire marshal. The meeting room has 35-seat capacity, and overflow seating is unavailable due to construction.

“While they were waiting for entry, staff members did try to quiet the crowd with the intention of allowing the board to hear a presentation from a student in our exchange program,” Pruitt said in the statement. “It is my understanding that the district’s staff attempts to quiet the crowd were received as a personal statement that Ms. Johnson was being loud.”

He said he wanted to publicly apologize for Johnson’s experience, and that her interaction with district staff was not consistent with what he would want for members of the community at district events. Pruitt said Johnson, members of the media and the public and welcome and encouraged to civically engage in district meetings.

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“In the future, Ankeny Schools will reserve a space for the news media at future board meetings and work with district staff on creating a welcoming environment. Additionally, we are identifying larger venues for meetings with an anticipated increased attendance,”

Pruitt said in the statement. “The district is committed to maintaining a professional working relationship with members of the media, and we will work to ensure they have the access they need to accurately report on district matters to the public.”

Johnson wrote on Twitter that healing from the incident will take a while.

“But if we can make an example out of this situation, now it’s very clear instances are unacceptable,” she wrote. “I’m hoping this means other journalists in Iowa won’t be turned away from doing their job.”

Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at [email protected] or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.

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