On Friday, we began a lively discussion about a story that ran on the front page of Saturday’s Dallas Morning News concerning how my daughter was admitted to a DISD pre-K program designed for at-risk and low-income kids. Over the weekend, I learned some information that leads me to believe Tawnell Hobbs, the woman who wrote story, deliberately omitted a very important detail from her report, a detail that didn’t fit her agenda.
The online version of the story is headlined “D Magazine Editor’s Child Given a Pre-K Slot in Dallas ISD School While Needy Children Wait.” The print version had a more accurate (to my mind) headline — “Flaws in Pre-K Program Studied” — but the subhead introduced the same concept: “Magazine editor’s child got in class ahead of at-risk kids it’s meant for.” And the lead drove it home: “A local magazine editor’s daughter is enrolled in a Dallas ISD pre-kindergarten program intended for low-income and at-risk kids, while latest counts show more than 300 students who qualify for the program remain on a waiting list.”
The clear implication is that my daughter got to the head of a line populated with 300 poor and at-risk children and that somewhere there is an unfortunate child whom I have deprived of a shot at a better life. I took a lot of heat for that in the lively discussion that followed Friday’s post.
But, as I learned over the weekend, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the current wait list for DISD’s pre-K program stands at 272 names. And the open spots? Noted DISD activist Louisa Meyer did some figuring and believes the number could be as high as 539. The district itself, choosing to err on the side of being conservative, estimates that the current number of openings is in the 350 to 400 range. In other words, there are far more openings than there are kids on the wait list. The vast majority of those families have been contacted by the district and told this. My daughter didn’t take a poor kid’s spot.
Now, what really gets me steamed is that I believe Tawnell Hobbs knew all this when she wrote her story. Yet she didn’t include the detail about the huge number of openings. And why do I think Hobbs deliberately overlooked that crucial information that would have put her story in a different context? Read the e-mail exchange I had with her over the weekend:
I’ve had some time to digest your story and get my hands on some more data.
Were you aware when you wrote your story that DISD has a lot of extra capacity in its pre-K program? It’s hard for me to believe that you didn’t know that. Page six of the OPR report says that the district had 1,021 spots of unused capacity. Now, because demand was not high enough, they did not staff up to create all those spots. But there are still a lot of actual open spots — far more spots than there are kids on the waiting list. Louisa Meyer has done some math that shows the district currently has in the range of 431 to 539 open spots that are staffed up and ready to roll.
Your lede strongly implied that my daughter got into Hexter AHEAD of some 300 students on a waiting list — that she took a needy child’s spot. If you made that implication accidentally, you’ll want to clear it up. If you did it intentionally, and if you deliberately omitted the detail that the district has more openings than it does people on the wait list — well, surely you didn’t do that. Right, Tawnell?
The district was also still enrolling kids from the waiting list as of Sept. 17, according to Steerman. (The number you quoted is from Sept. 10). Â Bottom line is your child got a slot before the district could even enroll students from the districtwide waiting list — before schools even had a chance to submit names to the list. As to why 300 students remain on the waiting list — without a waiver from the state (as required) — is for DISD to answer.
Tawnell D. Hobbs
The Dallas Morning News
Your point about the waiver is valid. I wish all that had been spelled out to us by the district when the process began. It wasn’t.
But from your response, with which you sidestepped my question, I take it that you were fully aware when you wrote your story that the district still has far more openings today than it has people on the wait list — and that you CHOSE not to include that information.
That’s the only problem I have with your reporting, Tawnell. But it’s a big problem. You withheld information that would have brought important context to the story.
With that, our correspondence ended.