Charter School Goes on Attack After TV News Station Airs Asbestos Story

A Phoenix charter school believes that when it comes to a "biased" news report, the best defense is a good offense.

After Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV) aired a sensationalized report about asbestos at North Pointe Preparatory, the school published a retort prominently on its home page headlined, "Faltering Station Creates News. The un-bylined article (which we think was probably written by Principal Richard Gow, its main source) makes a few good points about the Channel 3 story's weaknesses, but throws in a few zingers about the station's financial health and the media in general:

"As we all know, factual news reporting is a thing of the past for many local stations. Declining ratings have created an environment where stations have to create a story and biased reporting has replaced the presentation of fair and balanced information," said Principal Gow.

Gow also spews about Channel 10 News (KSAZ-TV) for good measure:

"This reminds me of Channel 10's non-story two years ago about a teacher being fired who wasn't fired," said Principal Gow. "At the end of his reporting I asked the veteran reporter why he went with a non-story. He said he tried to pull it but his producer said they had invested too much time and the story had to run."

The snarkiness continues in the accompanying "fact check" sidebar. For example,

Channel 3's statement:
So, I went above him to the Superintendent's office.

Prior to the reporter and cameraman being asked to leave school property, an interview had already been requested by Pointe Schools
Superintendent Johnson. The reporter had no intension
[sic] of talking to the Principal and was only trying to capture the dramatic "being klcked off campus shot" for the dwindling Channel 3 audience.


We have to agree that Channel 3's take on the subject was somewhat rabid. The $13,700 fine wasn't "for having asbestos," as TV news reporter Ryan O'Donnell stated, but rather for failing to create an asbestos management plan when it was required two years ago. The school ultimately paid $23,000 for an inspection, and the fine was deducted from that amount, meaning North Pointe paid nothing to the EPA.

Asbestos was found during the mandatory inspection in window caulking and other areas, but officials deemed it was okay to leave the stuff in place. O'Donnell never called the Environmental Protection Agency for more information, like we did. Instead, the TV news report quotes Jody Johnson, Pointe Schools superintendent, on the danger of "friable" versus "non-friable" asbestos, which might have created doubt in viewers' minds about whether the educator really knows what she's talking about.

Margot Perez-Sullivan of the EPA's bureau in San Francisco confirmed the superintendent's explanation, saying that asbestos "doesn't cause any harm unless it's disturbed."

According to North Pointe, not a single call from a concerned parent came in after the Channel 3 report.

Still, it looks like this whole debacle will end on ironic note: The school's article hints that, despite that lack of concern by parents and overblown news story, it's going to remove that asbestos, anyway.

Although the three year re-inspection is not due until October of 2010, Pointe Schools has begun to take steps to complete it ahead of schedule. During the inspection process, abatement options will be considered. Any removal will be done with the safety of students and employees in mind and will be conducted by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor.

Let's face it, no one wants asbestos -- even "non-friable" -- at their kid's school. We pointed out to the EPA representative that sun-exposed window caulking has a way of turning into dust over time. That's why the asbestos management plan is needed -- to keep on eye on stuff like that and take measures as needed, Perez-Sullivan told us.

In other words, while the Channel 3 article was over-the-top, the Principal Gaw protests too much.