North Dakota reporter banned from covering schools after security stories

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead | Valley News Live

On Dec. 11 of last year, reporter Mellaney Moore with Valley News Live in North Dakota entered elementary schools in three cities to test their security systems for a story. On Thursday, Emily Welker with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported that Moore agreed not to cover those schools for the next 90 days to avoid criminal charges.

Police in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo investigated Mellaney Moore for possible trespassing charges after her Dec. 11 story for Valley News Live in which she entered elementary schools in all three cities without signing in at the front desks – an attempt to point out shortcomings in the schools’ security.

Prosecutors in Moorhead and Fargo said earlier this week that they decided to not seek charges of alleged trespassing against Moore.

Valley News Live still has the story on its site, which reports that Moore “went into several area schools with a hidden camera to see just how safe our students really are. She found that in the middle of the school day, as a stranger, she could walk right into one of the area’s elementary schools.”

On Dec. 16, Valley News Live posted a story entitled “School Security Story Disputes: The Video Says It All,” (no video now) that pushes back against the schools assertion the story wasn’t true.

We wanted to show what really happened- so here is the raw audio and video of the conversation Mellaney had when she approached the faculty member:

Teacher: “Were you looking for a classroom?”
Mellaney: “Well actually, I think I got a little turned around. Where is your front office?”
Teacher: “Um, right here…”
Mellaney: “If you could just point me in the right direction.”
Teacher: “OK. Are you looking for the kindergarten wing or the fifth grade wing?”
Mellaney: “Just the front door.”
Teacher: “Ok, that’s the front door.”
Mellaney: “OK.”
Teacher: “Yep.”
Mellaney: “Thank you.”
Teacher: “Yep.”

According to a Dec. 13 story by Aaron Rupar for the alt-weekly City Pages, “In Moore’s report, hidden camera footage of children was accompanied with observations like this: ‘Right away, I saw lines of students, and one can’t even imagine what could happen.’”

Rupar cites a Forum story, that’s behind a paywall, about why the visits were possibly illegal.

According to a Forum Communications report, one of the schools she entered has a sign on the door stating, “During regularly scheduled classes, all visitors must register at the main office. Failure to do so is a Class B misdemeanor and a violation of Fargo municipal code 10-0320.” But in order to demonstrate holes in the schools’ security, Moore didn’t register when she walked in.

On Jan. 17, Poynter reported a similar stunt from St. Louis TV station KSDK, which caused a school lockdown. KSDK has since issued an apology.

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  • Justice Delivered

    Actually, there is a need. Bureaucracies are mostly interested in feathering their nests and ducking responsibility. Nothing would have changed without embarrassing public exposure.

    Someone should do a followup test of their security in six months, and if they have not fixed the problems the school board should be recalled and the superintendent fired. Perhaps, the school board should can the superintendent anyway?

    Those children are far more important than administrator egos.

  • Frank Spencer-Molloy

    well, she broke the law by trespassing on school grounds. she could have ditched the first-person melodrama and done a piece on which schools have locked doors and an intercom requiring visitors to be buzzed in and which don’t. and, if they don’t, what the school board’s plans are to rectify the problem. no need to go all mike wallace/60 minutes here. the odds are still vanishingly small that any given school is likely to be targeted by a mass murderer.

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  • JTFloore

    exactly what is there to apologize for if anybody can stroll into a school for any reason? the police and school officials are obviously worried about the wrong things. supposed “trespassing” by a lone journalist should be the least of their concerns.