It’s enormously tempting to assume Marlin Independent School District Superintendent Michael Seabolt, in openly claiming the Tribune-Herald makes up negative facts about the district, seeks to channel President Trump for his own purposes. After all, Trump’s rallying cry of “fake news!” resounds whenever some story appears in the mainstream news media and the facts don’t match the president’s boisterous balderdash.
But while media experts have seen an uptick in politicians and public officials making similar claims of “fake news” to throw off their constituents, those long in the journalism trade know better. This tactic is older than Trump or Seabolt. It extends through our nation’s long history. The real tragedy is that, in the crossfire spurred by Seabolt, the children of Marlin ISD are being left even further behind.
The latest dustup arose when Seabolt told the online news outlet Marlin Pride that the Trib, in its Aug. 17 story, made up the fact the school district’s future was unclear after the district failed state accountability ratings for the sixth year in a row. Common sense should tell one that any such troubled school district faces an uncertain fate, though we got this estimation confirmed through DeEtta Culbertson, veteran spokeswoman of the Texas Education Agency. The TEA has the power to shut down failing schools.
Obviously trying to dismiss the idea the district might be in at least some trouble, Superintendent Seabolt told Marlin Pride: “In fact, I was talking to a very senior TEA official again Friday afternoon and they said, ‘Nobody told [the Trib] that. They just made that up.’ That was a sound bite just drug out of pure air just so you could put it on there and somebody will read it and maybe sell a paper.”
Really? We again contacted the TEA’s Culbertson, who stands by her comment. And when given the chance to identify his TEA source, Seabolt not surprisingly declined to do so. When asked to cite what was specifically wrong with the Aug. 17 story, he declined to do so. Meanwhile our original story outlined where the district was doing well academically and where it faced challenges. We thought Marlin parents ought to know.
So it goes in a profession accustomed to public officials and even the public opting to “shoot the messenger” instead of facing up to difficult realities and hard facts that require innovation, discipline, resolve and, yes, courage. While Seabolt might hold on to his job longer through this distraction, the victim is not just the public’s right to know but the educational and career prospects of Marlin children.
Some parents and teachers might well be fooled into thinking academic failures can continue without consequence solely because, in a Trib interview back in June, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath told us that he didn’t see Marlin ISD’s closure by the state as likely. But that was before newly released accountability ratings for Marlin ISD raised understandable doubts at the TEA. Superintendent Seabolt may not want to answer difficult questions from the Trib such as “Where does Marlin ISD go from here?” or “What’s the next step?” But someone sure better be asking Seabolt these questions for the sake of Marlin children. Otherwise uncertainty will almost certainly cloud their future.