Tensions ran high at an Oct. 3 Jefferson County school board meeting — one that culminated in an altercation involving two school staffers and an audience member.
The incident occurred after the board failed to garner majority support for a measure that would have allowed the district to purchase what is called a critical update of a data storage system.
At one point during the vote, long discussions late in the evening led to board members accusing one of its own of holding the vote "hostage" and committing "blackmail."
The events from the evening illustrate the extent to which classroom technology and data storage has become a hot-button and polarizing topic at Jeffco Board of Education meetings.
Earlier in the evening, a Littleton woman named Natalie Adams had spoken out against the district's desire to spend $1.2 million for an updated data storage system. She also criticized the district for "recklessly spending millions" on different kinds of technology systems.
Her criticism also touched on the district's intention to pilot a classroom dashboard — a database backed by the Georgia-based nonprofit, inBloom and that is capable of storing students' personal information and academic records.
Adams wondered why the district would need to spend money for the data storage upgrade, when it plans to pilot the inBloom-backed dashboard any way. However, district staff said its intent to purchase the data storage had nothing to do with its plans to partner with inBloom.
Jeffco Schools issued an email statement, giving its account of the altercation that occurred outside the board room later that evening. A district staff member approached Adams — who was referred to in the statement as a "community member" — and asked her "to not misrepresent the facts about the district's technology systems."
According to the email, Adams then "followed the staff member in a threatening manner" before another Jeffco staffer stepped in between the two.
Adams then "pushed the intervening staff member repeatedly until district security and law enforcement intervened."
Adams received a trespass order and is now prohibited from entering the Jeffco Education Center building, without prior consent from district security.
The school district is not releasing the names of the staffers involved in the incident. A phone call to Adams has not been returned as of Tuesday.
A tense night for the board
There were also sharp exchanges between staff and board members while the board was taking up the data storage purchase issue at the meeting.
District staffers urged the board to approve the purchase of a new storage infrastructure through EMC, a data technology company. They argued that the current system is near the end of its life cycle and soon will no longer be able support processing, software and vital district services.
But Board member Paula Noonan ended up voting against the measure. Noonan, arguing that the board could use more "expertise" on technology and data matters, refused to support the purchase, unless the board approved a data management committee that would report directly to the body on these types of issues.
Noonan and fellow board member Laura Boggs have long-argued that the district is not doing enough to educate the board or the public on data system projects and how they interact.
"I'm just having a very difficult time trying to grasp the whole (picture), because all I'm seeing are pieces and nobody's put together the whole package for me," Noonan said.
But Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson took issue with Noonan's comments, taking them to mean that district technology staffers don't have the expertise necessary to do their jobs.
"Some of your questions definitely infer that we hire people who don't know what they're doing," Stevenson said, tersely.
Stevenson also said that the district will lay out a "total data governance system" during an Oct. 24 board study session and that it would make more sense for Noonan to request a data committee to be set up at that time.
When the vote was called, Boggs urged Noonan to say no. Noonan was at first hesitant, saying, "I don't want to say no."
"I don't want to say no either," Boggs told the board and staff. "But you've put us in a position where we can't have a conversation, where you're asking us to spend a million dollars..."
Board President Lesley Dahlkemper cut off Boggs in mid-sentence, saying, "That is absolutely not true."
Dahlkemper was warm to Noonan's idea for the creation of a data committee. But when she, like Stevenson, suggested that the matter should be taken up at a future meeting, Noonan reiterated her position of wanting approval for the committee prior to her voting yes.
Dahlkemper then accused Noonan of holding the data storage vote "hostage" and called her position "fundamentally wrong and irresponsible."
Board member Jill Fellman also said Noonan was "blackmailing the board."
The vote ended in a 2-2 tie, rendering the motion dead. Right now, the board is without a fifth member, because it has yet to replace the position that was left by former board member Robin Johnson, who recently resigned after having moved outside of the district.
Lynn Setzer, chief communications officer for Jeffco Schools, said this week that district staff is working on figuring out a solution to the data storage issue, but that "workarounds will likely mean a delay to the work of students and staff."
Editor's Note: Please note a phone call to Adams was made and has not been returned as of Tuesday morning.