Mr. Bell responds to Mr. Shepherd’s comments on News and Record article on Student Transfers

Robert Bell of the Greensboro News and Record responds to Mr. J Bruce Shepherd’s comments on athletes transferring from one school to another within the Guilford County School System for various reasons.

Mr. Bell’s comments are in bold print:

Mr. Shepherd, brings up some interesting points in his letter. I’ll leave it to him to have the last word on this but I did want to address some of his concerns and clarify some of his misconceptions about the article, which I stand by. My comments are in bold. Thanks

Robert Bell’s article “Era of Free Agents” is disturbing on many levels. I have addressed my concerns to Mr. Bell and he has encouraged me to write a letter to the editor.

Firstly, I find it unusual that Mr. Bell was on campus to interview the students without an adult present (The News & Record does many interviews of prep athletes in which adults are not present. However, in this case, I received permission from school officials to speak to the boys. Sometimes school officials ask about the subject of the interview and I tell them. Most times, as with this one, no one asks.) Both my son and the student interviewed at the same time as he, feel their comments were taken out of context (Since other people interviewed have not questioned me about the accuracy of the story, I will only address Mr. Shepherd’s concerns with his son. I asked him why he transferred. He responded that he wanted to play football. His response, in part: “Why should I have to give up on football? I still wanted to play. I couldn’t play at Page, so why not Grimsley?” Mr. Shepherd’s son spoke positively about Grimsley’s academics, but only after I brought the subject up. And never as a reason for transferring). Had an adult have been present, there would have been someone other than the two students there to confirm this. As it stands the reporter has the upper hand. Since the story is better with the boys’ comments as written, the reporter will of course stand by his story. Due to the nature of the story, if the students attempt to defend and/or correct their comments, it could be viewed as them changing their stories; because their stories are different from that of their parents. (Mr. Shepherd’s son had ample time during and after the interview to “change his story.” Mr. Shepherd’s son had two weeks to call me if he wanted to “correct his comments.” Even after I spoke with Mr. Shepherd and told him what his son had said, his son could have contacted me and “corrected his comments.” He didn’t.) If the story stands as written, the boys, their parents, and the school system can be viewed as seeking and approving a transfer for athletic reasons. Either way the boys lose. Obviously, Mr. Bell has no concern about how this story could affect these young people. (False. That’s one of the reasons why I sought out Mr. Shepherd for his comments. Unfortunately for Mr. Shepherd, I can’t run his comments while ignoring his son’s version. That would have been irresponsible and inaccurate on my part.)

I have to wonder why Mr. Bell chose to contact parents only after he interviewed the students instead of before. (Would his son’s statements to me have been different had I contacted Mr. Shepherd first?)

Mr. Bell admitted in his conversation with me that he changed the tone and focus of his article between the time he interviewed the boys and when he interviewed me (False. This implies that I purposely changed the tone and focus of the story. A story changes on its own based on what information is gathered. In this case any change to the story was dictated by those who I interviewed.) The boys were lead to believe the article was about the social issues involved with transferring to a new school. (False. I spoke about many issues of transferring with Mr. Shepherd’s son, including the social implications. Any implication of what the story was about was formed by Mr. Shepherd’s son – not me) Let’s keep in mind these are young people and students, not adults. During the course of the interview, playing football was discussed. My son’s comments, taken out of context, make it seem that he felt he was transferred to Grimsley to play football (False. Again, in a 20-minute interview, Mr. Shepherd’s son offered no other reason for transferring than football). This is in no way the case, nor what he said (Not sure how to respond. Earlier Mr. Shepherd said I took his son’s comments out of context. Now it appears he’s saying his son never made them. For the record: He did.) Mr. Bell appears to have felt content to convey whatever meaning he chose based on phrases he elicited. I understand, from talking with others, that Mr. Bell has the reputation of misquoting interviewees on a frequent basis (Mr. Shepherd understandably would not tolerate me making irresponsible and unsubstantiated claims like this one. Nor do I).

During the 2006/2007 school year, my son experienced difficulties with several of the coaches and several members of the staff and administration at Page High School. While the initial focus of these problems may have been related in part to football, it was certainly not the reason for our decision to transfer our son from Page.

We made the decision to transfer Stefan away from Page, not to transfer him to Grimsley (This contradicts what I was told for the story).

Contrary to what Mr. Bell may have inferred, I never stated the reason for the transfer was that Stefan “… had exhausted the advanced courses he could take at Page and that Grimsley offered more”. While we did request Grimsley as the school we preferred Stefan to attend, we did so not because of the lack of advanced courses at Page. We felt it in our son’s best interest to be away from Page, and Grimsley was not only the closest school to our home, but it also offered (in conjunction with Weaver Center) the next level in the Sci-Vis program that Stefan had excelled in during the last 3 years; something not offered at Page. Mrs. Jones, the Sci-Vis teacher at Page and a leading teaching in North Carolina in the Sci-Vis curriculum, recommended the course offerings at Weaver Center as a logical next step. It was Mr. Bell who chose to take Sci-Vis classes synonymous with advanced classes (True. Because of space limitations I paraphrased what Mr. Shepherd said about sci-vis classes. And he has a point that the story would have been more complete by me reporting that Mr. Shepherd’s son “exhausted the sci-vis classes at Page…”). Obviously, as he is not a teacher, nor a very good researcher, he was easily confused. Additionally, as I told Mr. Bell, Stefan was a minor child when the decision was made to transfer Stefan from Page and as such Stefan wasn’t consulted (This contradicts what both Mr. Shepherd and his son told me for the story). The decision was made by his parents and other adults that had his best interests at heart. These adults included the Board of Education who extensively scrutinized our application.

Furthermore, contrary to Mr. Bell’s writing, I never conveyed to him that the transfer was based solely on academics (The story never said the transfer was based solely on academics.) I just stated firmly that the transfer was not based solely on football (Agreed. I believe the story reflects that). In fact, until we received the approval from the Guilford County Schools, (in late June of 2007) we did not know which school Stefan would attend. That in and of itself should dispel the notion that Stefan was transferred to Grimsley to play football (Not knowing which school your son will attend doesn’t dispel anything. Fact: The family requested a transfer to Grimsley).

Stefan was subjected to a plethora of unfair treatments at Page, not the least of which was being forced to attend a meeting with Head Coach Gillespie, Assistant Principal Cockerham and Assistant Athletic Director Barnes. Stefan was removed from his chemistry class while taking a test, and told he needed to meet with these three adults. Stefan requested that one or both of his parents be present at the meeting. His request was not only denied, but when his mother arrived at the school, she was denied access to the meeting. This type behavior was not only allowed by Dr. Worrell (the principal at the time) and Mr. Lee, but apparently condoned by Dr. Grier and a majority of the school board members.

Sadly, as reprehensible as this was, there were many more incidents such as this; each one worse than the next. I did not feel that it was necessary to go into this part of the reason for Stefan’s transfer from Page with Mr. Bell; however, due to the comment made by Athletic Director Rusty Lee, who was quoted in the article, and subsequent comments I have received from Page Principal Marilyn Foley and Guilford County School Board Chairman Alan Duncan, I feel I have no choice.

I contend that Mr. Lee’s comment, “I can tell you unequivocally (Shepard) did not leave because of academics,” was inappropriate, unprofessional, and in breech of the guidelines set out by the GCSS to protect student privacy as shown on the GCSS website. There it is written: “Recipients of student records should be cautioned that student information may not be released to third parties without the consent of the parent/guardian or eligible student”. In this case Mr. Lee would be the “recipient” and Mr. Bell the “third party”. Not only was Mr. Lee incorrect in his quote, he broke policy by commenting on what should have remained private. What is even more disturbing is that it appears Mr. Lee was instructed as to how to respond to Mr. Bell (False. I never instructed or coached Mr. Lee in any fashion. I asked him why Mr. Shepherd’s son transferred. Mr. Lee seemed reluctant to talk. I then told Mr. Lee that Mr. Shepherd said they put in for a transfer because Stefan had taken all of the sci-vis courses he could take at Page and that Grimsley offered more. Mr. Lee then said he would call me back with a comment.)

That Stefan transferred to Grimsley is public record – he is there. The reasons why or why not a transfer took place are private, and for an official (Mr. Lee) of the school system to convey information about a student is not appropriate. This is where Mr. Lee invaded Stefan’s privacy, and why his comments are in breech of the community’s trust. I have to wonder: if he is so willing to talk about my son’s private issues, can he be trusted to keep other private matters from becoming public?

I questioned Mr. Bell’s use of the quote. I also questioned Principal Foley’s and the School Board’s reasoning for allowing such a quote. Listed below are the comments I have received in answer to my questions regarding the appropriateness of Mr. Lee’s comment. All of the quotes were taken from emails sent to me.

From Mr. Bell, 11/15/07: “…Mr. Lee said he would have to talk with school officials before responding. When he called back, he told me that both Page and Guilford County School administrators had instructed him on what to say…”

From Ms. Foley, 11/15/07: “I can tell you that the reporter gave the slant to Mr. Lee that the transfer was due to Page’s poor academics. (I never told Mr. Lee that the transfer was due to poor academics. I repeated Mr. Shepard’s claim to Mr. Lee. It was Mr. Lee who interpreted Mr. Shepard’s remarks as an indictment against Page academics.)That was certainly a perception that would be an inaccurate portrayal of the academic programs here at Page. I was out of town and did not see the article. However, it was my understanding that Mr. Lee stated only that the transfer was not due to academics.

From Mr. Bell, 11/16/07: “I agree: You never questioned Page’s academics in our interview. Nor did I imply as much in my interview last week with Mr. Lee. I merely repeated to him the reasons you had explained to me for the transfer — that Stefan had exhausted all the advanced courses available for him at Page. I spoke to Mr. Lee this morning and he confirmed this”.

“As I noted yesterday, Mr. Lee said last week in our interview he would have to talk to school administrators before comment. This morning, he said he interpreted your remarks as being negative and that he relayed as much to Dr. Foley last week”.

From Alan Duncan, 11/16/07: “Factually, the statement that is attributed to you in the article is not accurate given the number of Advanced Placement courses offered at Page. The clear inference left by your statement is unmistakably to the effect that Page’s academic offerings were inferior to Grimsley’s and the Board allowed the reassignment based on that fact. Any reassignment that was permitted for your son was not based on inadequate academic offerings at Page”

It is obvious that someone is not being completely truthful. Either Mr. Bell conveyed to Mr. Lee that my comments were something other than what they actually were, or Mr. Lee embellished Mr. Bell’s comments in an effort to get permission to comment. Either way, it was inappropriate for Mr. Lee to comment. Mr. Lee not only violated my son’s right to privacy, he blatantly defied my request from last year, a request of which Mr. Lee was fully aware: that he (Mr. Lee) was to have no contact with my son nor was he to comment on any situation regarding my son. This is in response to a situation in which Mr. Lee verbally attacked me in a public arena; a situation for which Mr. Lee was reprimanded, as confirmed by letter from Dr. Terry Worrell (former Page principal) in September 2006.

While I do feel that Mr. Bell was remiss in his handling of this article I feel that the comment made by Mr. Lee was inexcusable. The only thing worse than Mr. Lee making the comment is that it appears that his comment was a directive from Ms. Foley and ”Guilford County School administrators”. Apparently it is the opinion of Mr. Lee, Ms. Foley, and “Guilford County School administrators” that it is more important to defend an aspersion, thought to be cast against Page’s academics than it is to protect the privacy of a student, and follow policy.

For all of those who have commented on how wrong it was that my son be transferred for athletic reasons…it was because of the reasons I have stated here, and certain members of the Page staff and administration’s total disregard for policy, procedure and student welfare that my son was transferred away from Page. Fortunately for my son, the School Board decided he would attend Grimsley.

We are pleased that his school experiences at Grimsley have proven to be positive. We have hoped that the positive environment would help him to move past the negativity of his experiences of last year at Page. We are hoping that he will be able to move on to a productive future as a student and athlete, having learned from these experiences.

Unfortunately, due to Mr. Bell’s jaundiced journalism and Mr. Lee’s inappropriate comments, this will be more difficult than anticipated.

J Bruce Shepherd

After reading this post several times over I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Bell and Mr. Shepherd know much more about this particular situation than I do and I need to get back on the street and gather more details. These men are detail oriented and I hope I can catch up with them one day. If I would approach my subjects with the fervor and time that these men have put into this topic then our readers would be better served.

Mr. Bell’s credibility has come under question here and Mr. Shepherd is on board in defense of his son and his family name. Both men are correct to be standing up and speaking out about this issue. I do not believe we could have ever dreamed how many details would involved when Robert Bell first broke this story.

I have followed transfers for many years and I’m still blown away by how much is going on here with the transfer issues.

Have a good holiday, we hope everyone can have some peace and enjoy a good piece of turkey. For me, I will stick to the Dur-HAM sandwiches.