TO THE EDITOR:

School board candidate Winger takes issue with story

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Posted

Thank you for your recent coverage of the Chatham County School Board race. As we discussed in our interview, many issues have led me to enter this race, but one of the most important is accuracy about what has happened in our school system and what is happening in the Chatham County School Board, which is why I am writing you today.

Having read your report “2 new challengers vie for board seats together,” published on September 7, 2022, in the Chatham News + Record, I take objection to four critical points in your article, including the headline. Either by error or with incomplete background knowledge, there are issues that I submit to you and the editorial team for correction.

First, Mr. Tim Moore and I are not a “bloc.” Nor are we running “together,” as your headline states. We are not a “unity ticket.” I am perplexed why you would say this because I never stated anything of the kind to you, nor did you ever ask me if we were a bloc. We happen to be running for school board at the same time, and we have the same party affiliation, yet we are seeking different seats on the board, and we have different approaches and platforms to our campaigns. This is not a minor issue. That entire premise of your headline and article is misleading. I heard from a few of my supporters after reading your article that they were confused by your assertions. One supporter of mine assumed that Mr. Moore and I had suddenly become running mates based on your reporting, which we are not. We do not coordinate our campaigns, nor am I a “Parents-First” voice. We are not “together,” as your article states and I think this is a significant distinction that carries legal campaign complications and it is a wholly inaccurate assertion of fact. Likewise, I do not have a “Parents-First” platform as your article falsely stated. You have put words into my mouth that I never said, and it is misleading and untrue. Please provide proof or correct the record. I gave you my campaign literature, yet you inserted your own “Parents-First” words on my platform. My platform is about partnering with parents, giving children an unbiased education, supporting teachers, and rebuilding trust between schools and families. My website has all of that information for your reference at WingerForEducation.com

Next, your absence of reporting about Mr. Stickney was conspicuous yet lacked any explanation. If Mr. Stickney did not interview with you, I believe you have a duty to state what you know or how you reached out to his campaign as you have done with all the other school board candidates. That was one of Mr. Horner’s promises in this election cycle to state exactly that.

Additionally, Mr. Gary Leonard is quoted saying, “We’re not teaching CRT,” but you did not ask him to clarify, nor did you report any attempts to re-connect with him before publishing your report about the recent bombshell news by the Chatham Journal on September 1, 2022, six days before you published your article. The Journal’s report includes evidence with curriculum materials and agenda items which was mandatory training for CCPS district leaders, while administrators and the superintendent attended training from a pro-CRT non-profit. The fact that this well-known bombshell did not get checked or included in your report a week before your publishing is incredulous.

Lastly, Mr. Horner publicly stated in his August 31st elections coverage promise that “If a candidate speaks untruths or shares incorrect information, we’ll point that out and provide details about why.” Yet, in your very first coverage if this race you violated your own rule. You quoted Ms. Del Turner as saying “We’ve had these events where anyone in the community, any stakeholder can attend,” Turner said. “Ms. Winger was not there.” This statement is simply not true. No one asked me for comment about Ms. Del Turner’s statements. You and the editorial team failed to research the meeting documents, YouTube videos, and other sources before you ran her statements as fact. These statements are baseless, but your paper has now helped her to perpetuate this as a fact. For more than two years I have regularly attended publicly available school meetings all over Chatham, including community input meetings, not just board meetings. Your inaccuracies didn’t end there. In another point you continued to share slanderous and incorrect information by quoting her and then adding me to her statement, outside of quotes. “They came making demands,” Turner said of Winger and a group of parents. “We got insulted, got called stupid, and they said we weren’t looking at the science and all this kind of thing.” I never called her stupid, and I am not personally aware of anyone who did. You clearly didn’t research this before you haphazardly repeated her statements and tied this to me. You failed to fact check her statements. Again, not a single follow-up question from you on this report as fact. It is abundantly clear you also didn’t watch videos of me speaking during these meetings or you would have known this to be untrue.

In closing, I present this letter with the intention of ensuring accuracy in reporting about this election and the school board. This is provided to your team in good spirit, but with resolve that reporting must be fair, accurate, and convey honesty. Our children deserve the best education we can provide. To achieve that, they deserve solid, unbiased, fact-based reporting about education matters. Teachers and students are struggling beneath the weight of poor representation on the school board. I am asking you to clarify, retract, or correct these and other points that I believe are substantive. I expect you to hold me and others responsible with unbiased, rigorous fact checking.

I look forward to continuing our dialogue and I am keeping an open door to future conversations.

Jessica Winger
Pittsboro

Editor’s note: The allowable length of a letter to the editor (400 words) was waived for Mrs. Winger to provide a fuller response to the story.

The characterization of Winger and Moore seeking office as a “bloc” was based on pre-interview email exchanges with Mr. Moore, who made several requests for interviews by the News + Record to include himself and Mrs. Winger, and comments made by the two candidates at a Republican Party event. The term “unity ticket” was not used in the story. To accommodate Mrs. Winger’s request, we have removed the description “bloc” from the story.

Mr. Moore used the term “parents first” in his interview, and comments made by Mrs. Winger in her interview focused on the need for parents to be heard, including: “I started attending to be a voice for parents. It was really discouraging to see a lack of conversation and questioning about what was happening… And what I found was a disconnect between the school board and the parents, and really the whole community,” as well as, “We felt the parent perspective was pushed to the side. It was always ‘OK, we hear you, we don’t care.’ That was extremely frustrating,” and “We need to let teachers do their job, but this is also where transparency becomes important. Parents shouldn’t be blindsided. This is where that clear communication is super important.” The Chatham County Republican Party has also frequently used the term “parents first” in social media postings in regard to education policy goals. To accommodate Mrs. Winger’s request, the term “parents first” has been removed from the online version of the story in connection with her candidacy.

Mr. Stickney was not interviewed for the story because his name was not included or raised in communication with the candidates about a story, nor did he appear with Mr. Moore or Mrs. Winger at the Chatham County Republican Party candidate event back in August. Mr. Stickney and all board of education candidates will be profiled and included in planned elections coverage by the News + Record.

Regarding Mrs. Winger’s comments about the Chatham Journal’s report about Critical Race Theory training for Chatham County Schools administrators: the Journal, an extension of Gene Galin’s “Chatham Chatlist,” allows anonymous attacks on the Chatham County Board of Education. In this specific case, a bylined story on the Journal’s website described equity training as “white privilege” training. The News + Record has previously reported about CRT and questions about its place in CCS curriculum. Critical race theory is an academic framework taught at undergraduate and graduate levels that examines the social construction of race and how racism is embedded into legal and social systems. It’s common for mandated or voluntary equity and social justice training for administrators and staff to be interpreted by some as CRT training or CRT indoctrination, but that interpretation doesn’t make it a reality, particularly in regard to K-12 classroom instruction.

And finally, regarding Mrs. Winger’s rebuttal to Board Member Del Turner’s comments, while we can neither confirm nor deny the specific comments made by parents during school board meetings, our previous coverage has noted insults to the school board including “stupid,” “idiot” or called them unfit for office. This leads us to believe that Turner’s claims regarding being insulted by parents are plausible.      

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