New questions over DISD's $57,000 trip to the movies

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 12:21 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 9 at 1:00 AM

DALLAS - The fallout from the DISD's fifth-grade boys trip to see a war movie last month continues.

News 8 has confirmed that state and federal officials are reviewing trip expenditures. Now, comes new information suggesting DISD could have accomplished the same mission for a fraction of the cost.

DISD spent $57,000 one month ago sending fifth-grade boys to see the movie "Red Tails," the George Lucas film based on the Tuskegee Airmen squadron during World War II. Fifth-grade girls were not invited, which may be a violation of federal laws.

And while top district officials portray the field trip as a success, e-mails obtained by News 8 show DISD could have saved themselves most of the money and all of the headache.

WFAA has reviewed hundreds of internal DISD e-mails from and to the top official who planned the trip, then-elementary schools chief, Shirley Ison-Newsome. The e-mails show Ison-Newsome conceived the trip on Jan. 14, 2012, just days before the movie about the Tuskegee Airmen was released in Dallas.

Seeking input from principals about sending fifth graders to a PG-13 movie, of the few who replied, most were supportive.

"I recommend that our 5th grade boys see the film," Budd Elementary Principal Israel Rivera replied. "It's action packed, entertaining."

But Wheatley Elementary Principal Kamalia Cotten wasn't as sure.

"I don't think it is 5th grade appropriate," she wrote. "It is more towards 7th grade and up."

On Jan. 29, Adams Elementary Principal Jean McGill suggested to Ison-Newsome renting the noted documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen, "Double Victory."

At least one principal did just that. Alecia Cobb at DeGolyer Elementary rented the George Lucas-produced documentary "Double Victory" to show to all of her fifth-grade students, boys and girls. The documentary also aired on the History Channel last month for free.

At one point, DISD officials were encouraged to have students participate in a nation-wide video conference being held Feb. 28. The two-hour, live web-cast, available to about 50 DISD campuses, would feature a video presentation and live discussion with living members of the Tuskegee Airmen squadron.

The cost to the district? Nothing. The schools participating? Just one, Brashear Elementary.

By Feb. 3, six days before the field trip, five elementary school principals had opted out of the trip. On Feb. 9, 4,400 boys from 132 schools spent $57,000 at the movies.

"They are not concentrating on teaching history, they are concentrating on watching airplanes blow up," said DISD watchdog Allen Gwinn.

We showed Gwinn the series of e-mails obtained by News 8, as well as a timeline of how Ison-Newsome planned the field trip with no apparent input from Interim Superintendent Alan King, and little discussion about cheaper alternatives.

"If it was about teaching history they would have participated in web-casts or they would watch a more historical documentary if they had to, or even better, get the book, read the book," Gwinn said.

In the wake of wide-spread criticism of the trip, Ison-Newsome began receiving e-mails of support from some principals.

Ervin Elementary School Principal Marcus Paris raved about the field trip.

"This was a great experience for our young men," said Paris in an e-mail to Ison-Newsome. "My boys could tell during the movie when a character was going to die and the ending was sad because of the way the pilots died."

The only comment from Acting Superintendent Alan King came along with news that a DISD middle school decided not to take their own field trip to see the movie.

"Canceling the trip in this environment was a good move," King said in the e-mail.

We asked to interview both Interim Superintendent King, as well as Shirley Ison-Newsome. Both declined.

Since the "Red Tails," field trip controversy, Ison-Newsome has been promoted to DISD's Interim Head over all schools.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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