Today's front page story about Bee reporter Pablo Lopez and his family's battle with Fresno Unified School District is unusual both in subject matter and authorship.
Normally newspapers avoid articles about their own employees, other than the occasional item about contests won or promotions earned. Reporters, editors and photographers are trained not to be part of the story, and that suits us just fine.
There are notable exceptions. In October 2007 we published a first-person account of former Bee reporter Tracy Correa's struggle with breast cancer. It was a compelling account that struck a chord with many readers, who wrote thanking Tracy and, in some cases, vowing to get mammograms.
Today, for the first time since then, one of our reporters is in the spotlight. Because this story involves a conflict between our employee and Fresno Unified, which we regularly cover, we didn't assign a Bee reporter to write it.
Instead, I thought a reporter with no connection to our newsroom should write the initial overview of this case.
I asked California Watch, an independent investigative-journalism nonprofit with an impressive track record and sterling reputation (they were finalists for a Pulitzer Prize this year, among other honors) to step in and do this story.
They agreed and assigned a former Los Angeles Times reporter, Joanna Lin, whom neither I nor the Lopezes had met, and who is based in Orange County covering statewide education issues. California Watch editors in Berkeley oversaw her work.
We felt that this was a story that needed to be told for several reasons. First, it provides a window into a complex and little-understood function of our education system that can involve enormous outlays of resources, time and energy from both families and school districts.
The meetings, hearings, laws and acronym-laced language this story relates are hallmarks of a world that families of special education students must learn to navigate and laws that teachers and administrators are expected to follow.
The requirements governing school districts and how districts handle disagreements with their constituents are matters of public interest.
Second, the Lopez case has escalated to a conflict between the Fresno County Board of Education and Fresno Unified, with the county board directing the district to reverse its expulsion of the Lopezes' son, and FUSD challenging that directive in court. Public resources and policy are at stake.
And third, the superintendent of one of the largest school districts in California met with a parent in a truck in a parking lot to encourage him to fire his lawyer in exchange for legal fees and educational services already required by law. We would write about this if it involved a parent previously unknown to us; in this case, we know the parent.
In asking California Watch to cover this story, we relinquished control of it, and Lin reported it as she saw it. It comes to you today without further edits by us.
I leave it to our readers to form their own opinions of how the Lopez family, Fresno Unified and The Bee handled their responsibilities. As always, I look forward to your comments and views.
Betsy Lumbye is executive editor and senior vice president of The Bee. She can be reached at email@example.com
or (559) 441-6207.