Thrust Into Spotlight, GDS Stays Quiet Before Confirmation Vote

The communications office in the lower/middle school building. Photo by Hercules Zhang.

During the Senate confirmation hearings for justice-designate Ketanji Brown Jackson, a GDS trustee, the school was the subject of extensive media coverage on a national scale. Head of School Russell Shaw emailed GDS’ faculty and staff on March 22 asking that they “please do not speak to the press.” 

In an email to students and parents on March 28, Shaw wrote, “We have chosen not to speak to the press or communicate extensively with our own community during the confirmation process. We look forward to communicating more fully at the appropriate time.” 

Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court on April 7. The administration has not publicized any new information about its press policy, but the communications office circulated a special edition of its newsletter Hopper Happenings to parents and teachers several hours after Jackson’s confirmation, which included a blog post by Shaw discussing GDS’ role in the hearings for the first time publically.

The school’s public Instagram account, which members of the communications office usually add to on a daily basis when school’s in session, saw its first post since March 17 several hours after Jackson was confirmed.

Director of Communications Alison Grasheim declined an interview with the Bit during the hearings, pointing to the school’s decision not to talk to reporters about Jackson. More than ten other staff members declined interview requests.

In an interview with the Bit during the confirmation process, English teacher John Burghardt said he thought Shaw’s request “deflated our posture of being progressive, liberal, honoring each individual, to the extent that we would allow each individual who works for the school to speak her or his mind.”

Burghardt suggested that in the future GDS’ leaders might weigh the reasons for not speaking to the press against the recognition that “we can’t follow corporate directives like this, gag orders, and be who we say we are.”

Freshman Jada Aksu said she agreed with Shaw’s decision given how “the media can warp things.” Senior Jake Markarian also thought the decision was wise.

In its coverage of the school, The Washington Post wrote that GDS staffers and former board members only agreed to be interviewed “on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the school.”

History teacher Sue Ikenberry said that when Shaw addressed faculty on their first day back from spring break, he attributed GDS’ silence to a request from the White House. Shaw did not respond to emailed requests for an interview. 

Ikenberry was initially skeptical of the school’s decision. “You always want to cooperate with the media,” she said. “That’s my first instinct.” But hearing that GDS’ silence was due to a White House request made her reconsider, she said.

Sophomore Alex Marchand told the Bit that GDS’ silence “was definitely a smart move because I don’t think Russell wants to impact Ketanji Jackson’s confirmation process.”

The same day that Shaw sent the email to faculty and staff asking that they not speak to the press, Fox News published an article claiming the school teaches critical race theory. The following day, Breitbart published two articles claiming GDS pushes “cultural Marxism” and “adult sexual content” on its students.

Markarian said he thought it was unnecessary for the school to defend itself against the right-wing media since “everyone that knows GDS knows these things are untrue.”

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