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Political literature set out at school district staff event; Teuber calls incident ‘innocent mistake’

By Staff | Sep 11, 2008

Last week it was discovered that a piece of political literature somehow made its way to a meeting of Lee County School District employees hosted at the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium in Fort Myers, even though district policy prohibits distributing such materials.

During Tuesday’s school board action meeting, Board Member Robert Chilmonik mentioned the incident and distributed copies of the literature to the other four board members.

The literature touched on U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s decision to allow a vote on offshore drilling. It included a number of points entitled “Drilling only benefits big oil’s bottom line,” and supports continuing the federal drilling moratorium.

It also included contact information for U.S. Rep. Connie Mack and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, and asked local residents to tell them to support the moratorium.

According to Board Member Steven Teuber, who was contacted about the incident, it was an “innocent mistake” performed by a young teacher who is unfamiliar with district policy.

“The young teacher was contacted by a political or environmental group who had a political agenda and convinced her, in my opinion exploited her, to take this material with her to the meeting,” he said.

The meeting at the Calusa Nature Center was organized by the district’s environmental coordinators from schools across the county. The political literature was placed by the teacher on a main table next to a sign-in sheet and recorded minutes from the last group meeting.

“Unbeknownst to them, that paperwork was laid there,” said Teuber. “When it was brought to our attention, we sent an e-mail saying it wasn’t school endorsed. As far as we are concerned the matter is handled.”

Teuber added that no school materials such as copies were used by the teacher in the distribution of the literature, but the district’s e-mail system had been used in correspondence with the environmental group.

He could not discuss what action was taken against the teacher because it was a personnel issue, he said. Also the district had not identified the environmental group responsible.

On Wednesday, Superintendent James Browder said the issue could not be discussed because it was a personnel issue.

“It was something that occurred and we have handled it and the issue is resolved,” he said.

Teuber explained that the teacher was upset to find out that she had broken district policy.

“The teacher was hysterical,” said Teuber. “She didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to do that. It was a mistake. That is the reason it doesn’t come to board level because we don’t need second-year teachers brought out to the public for an innocent mistake.”

When the issue was first mentioned to him, Teuber said he contacted Browder to handle the issue, although Chilmonik questioned why he or other board members were not notified about an investigation.

Teuber said Browder does not contact board members on an issue unless that issue is not resolved.

“We never hear back unless it doesn’t get resolved,” said Teuber.

On Wednesday Browder did not say whether there had been an investigation. He reiterated that it was a personnel issue that had been resolved.

Chilmonik, on the other hand, said Teuber was quoted as saying that a staff investigator was assigned to look into the incident on an AM radio interview broadcast on Monday.

“My concerns continue and what was stated on the radio left me with the impression that some type of inquiry was made and school board members were not supposed to discuss personnel issues in public and that happened on the Monday interview,” said Chilmonik.

Chilmonik added that he questions whether an investigation was started and he wants to see a copy of the investigation report as soon as it is available.

“We need to get to the bottom of this and send a strong message to the entire school district,” he said.