An e-mail sent to members of the USD 231 Board of Education regarding possible health risks at an in person graduation was made public on social media within a few hours by an employee.
The e-mail was sent from Holly Snyder, a Gardner resident, expressing concern that USD 231 was holding an in person graduation ceremony during the pandemic. She suggested a virtual graduation.
Snyder said she sent the email only to the GE board, Pam Stranathan, superintendent, and Ben Boothe, information officer.
Within a few hours Snyder’s email was shared by a district employee on several social media groups, where it generated considerable discussion, including Rich Melton, Gardner council, who encouraged the school employee who posted the email to not reveal her source.
The post was deleted and then reposted.
Some patrons with graduating seniors were upset at Snyder’s suggestion the graduation be held virtually, saying the seniors had worked hard all year for this event.
Snyder was not pleased that her email was shared publicly and wrote BOE members requesting clarification on board policy relating to sharing patrons’ email.
“I am writing to let you know a member of the USD 231 School Board broke confidentiality, sharing an email with a member of the Gardner public,” Snyder wrote. “I sent this email at 11:27 a.m. Friday, July 24th. By 1:24 p.m. the same day, that email is posted by (an employee) of USD 231, in food service, and parent of a graduating senior at Gardner Edgerton High School. I did not send this email to anyone other than the original recipients—the district superintendent, communication director and school board members,” she wrote.
Snyder attached a copy of the post as it appeared on social media, including Citizens for the Future of Gardner and the Gardner Edgerton High School page.
“It is my understanding that our school board keeps emails they receive confidential,” Snyder wrote. “Board members do not share emails, via their official USD 231 email accounts, personal email accounts or via cell phone screenshots. Has this policy recently changed?”
Snyder asks who originally shared her email with the district employee, why and whether all patrons should be concerned their contact with board members might be shared publicly.
“I am disappointed in USD 231 and their lack of professionalism,” Snyder said. “Gardner deserves a school board they can trust. When a parent communicates concerns about their student and district, they rely on the board to keep that communication confidential. In this case, the board failed.”
Snyder said she would like an apology from the person who violated her trust. “I believe in our school district. I expect us to behave with integrity,” she said.
Answering a query from The Gardner News regarding the incident, both Rob Shippy and Kristin Schultz, BOE members, replied.
Shippy acknowledged forwarding the email. “I believe that my intent was made clear in the original response I wrote to your e-mail suggesting postponement or cancellation of graduation festivities.  As an individual board member, I do not make administrative decisions such as whether or not to postpone an event like graduation.  At that time, I clearly told you that I intended to pass on your comments.  I wrote, ’Holly, I appreciate the email, I will make sure to get this information passed on to those that are involved in the graduation process in greater detail.’ If you had objected to your e-mail being made public, I might have proceeded differently.  However, you did not object,” he wrote.
“As I told you I planned to do, I forwarded your e-mail request to individuals working on graduation festivities,” he said..  “One of those individuals, as I understand it, posted a copy of your e-mail which said ”Please consider delaying graduation or making it virtual.”  The employee who posted Snyder’s email works in food services.
Shippy said Snyder did not request her e mail be kept confidential, and it did not contain private information such as a student or parent’s name.
“I also do not understand your suggestion that I did something wrong by passing your request on to others,” Shippy wrote. “I merely forwarded it to those who were in a position to address it. I understand we will probably have a difference of opinion, so I will not further debate the response provided.”
Schultz also responded to Snyder and indicated she could find no direct policy requiring e-mails sent to the board were confidential.
“I did however find in our Goals and Objectives, under School Board Policy, the following language, which I feel is pertinent:
In exercising their duties in furtherance of this objective, board members will strive to conduct themselves in an ethical, business-like, and lawful manner; to not misuse their authority as board members; and to display appropriate decorum in fulfillment of their roles as board members,” she said.
Schultz said the issue had been brought to her attention by three individuals.
“I reached out to my fellow board members to let them know, whether intentionally or inadvertently, that an email sent to us had somehow gotten not only into the hands of someone who wasn’t an intended recipient, but worse, posted to social media along with the sender’s personal information,” she said. “In my inquiry, I also asked what steps we might take to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.  I received no response.  To my knowledge, no action has been taken to date.”
Schultz said she was concerned and did not want parents, staff or students  to have even the most remote of apprehensions when coming forward with questions, concerns or suggestions.
“In and of itself, there is nothing that guarantees the privacy of an email sent to a public official,” Schultz said. “However, for me, this falls into the category of ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’.”
Further Schultz said if it was inadvertently, or privately shared she believes the person should have reached out and kindly requested the post be removed.
“If it was done intentionally, I would hope, at the very least, that we would take the time to redact all personal information before doing so,” Schultz said.
“Either way, I’m embarrassed by the lack of ownership in its occurrence and the lack of professionalism in our response,” she said. “The sharing of the email with the sender’s personal information included, directly resulted in some negative responses that became very personal.  I think we, as a board, have some culpability in that.”
Snyder said she was disappointed with the district’s response and lack of apology.
“I believe this was an instance of targeted intimidation and retribution on behalf of the school board,” Snyder said.
At press time, the posts with Snyder’s information still appears on social media.