School Board report on DeVincentis e-mail investigation

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Report following the publication of non-public e-mails

Steamboat Springs Board of Education

Issued July 3, 2007

Introduction

This is the Board of Education's report to the RE-2 community regarding the publication of the McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails. In trying to understand the series of events that led to the publication, we initially talked with our superintendent and school district attorney. Because the answers we received were incomplete and raised additional questions, the BOE decided to launch an independent investigation.

Earl Rhodes, an attorney from the law firm of Younge & Hockensmith, Grand Junction, was retained. Mr. Rhodes spent several days interviewing key persons to collect pertinent information. Unfortunately, the investigation was hampered by the refusal of former BOE members and a former director to cooperate.

This investigation is concerned with the following:

1. The circumstances by which the e-mails were obtained and disseminated,

2. An examination of whether any RE-2 policies were violated, and

3. (if policies were violated), what procedures and policies are needed to protect confidential school district information.

Timeline of events

Following is a timeline of the events pertaining to the e-mail publication:

1984

- Dr. John DeVincentis becomes Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal.

1998

- School district adopts informal e-mail policy restricting use of e-mail for work-related reasons: 1. Employees have no expectation of e-mail privacy; 2. Employee e-mails may be read for legally permissible reasons.

- Prohibition against personal use not enforced.

June 2002

- Superintendent Cyndy Simms gives Principal DeVincentis poor evaluation.

- DeVincentis challenges evaluation.

- Controversy becomes public.

2003

- Simms leaves Steamboat Springs; becomes superintendent, Mercer Island, Wash.

Fall 2003

- Dr. Donna Howell hired as superintendent by BOE (Paula Stephenson, Pat Gleason, Paul Fisher, Tom Sharp, Tami Havener)

- Three (1-year contracts) granted Howell. Each contract includes 12-month "dismissal without cause" clause.

March 2004 through June 2005

- Joby McGowan, Mercer Island, teacher contacts DeVincentis via e-mail. Extended e-mail conversation between McGowan and DeVincentis.

September 2004 through June 2005

- DeVincentis' last year as principal at SPE

March through April 2005

- Rumors of DeVincentis BOE candidacy begin circulating

- Howell requests new 4-year contract. Proposed contract expands "dismissal without cause" clause from 1 to 4 years.

April, 2005

- Howell granted 4-year "no-cut" contract by BOE (Stephenson, Gleason, Havener, Loomis). Troeger abstains citing fiscal concerns and limiting effect of "no-cut" contract on future BOE.

- BOE sets aside $600,000 in contingency fund to comply with TABOR restrictions regarding multi-year contracts.

June 8 or 9, 2005

- Howell directs tech staff to download all information from DeVincentis computer. DeVincentis neither asked nor told.

- Staff reluctantly agrees to enter principal's office after hours (evening) to download e-mails/documents from hard drive.

June 8 or 9, 2005

- DeVincentis e-mails/documents copied from hard drive.

June 9, 2005

- Tech staff alerts Howell upon discovering e-mails.

- CD containing DeVincentis e-mails/documents given to Howell.

- Tech staff does not retain copies of e-mails/documents.

June to November 2005 (date uncertain)

- Howell contacts school district attorney for advice regarding accessing employee's computer.

Late June 2005

- DeVincentis retires (deletes personal e-mails and documents from RE-2 computer).

- Tech staff erases DeVincentis hard drive.

August 2005

- Howell reads McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails and discusses contents with school district attorney.

- No disciplinary action taken (DeVincentis no longer RE-2 employee).

- E-mail/documents not destroyed.

- E-mail/documents not placed in DeVincentis personnel file.

August 2005

- Howell informs BOE President Stephenson of McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails.

- Stephenson requests and is given paper copies by Howell.

- BOE members not told about e-mails.

November 2005

- DeVincentis defeats Loomis in contested BOE election

- Miller-Freutel runs opposed. Connelly replaces Stephenson in uncontested race. Gleason and Troeger remain on BOE .

- Stephenson does not return McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails upon leaving office.

- New BOE not informed by Howell of McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails.

November 2005

- Board of County Commissioners of Arapahoe County v. Denver Publishing Company: if an e-mail is personal and not made in conjunction with public business or expenditure, then it is not a public record that is accessible by the press/public even though it was created/maintained on a publicly owned computer by a public employee. 121P.3d 190 (Colo. App. 2005).

- Howell does not retrieve (now nonpublic) McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails from Stephenson

Sometime in 2006

- Howell destroys CD containing McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails.

- Howell does not retrieve copies of McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails from Stephenson.

September 25, 2006

- Denise Connelly elected BOE president.

- Connelly not informed by Howell of McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails.

Winter 2006 through Spring 2007

- BOE-Superintendent relationship deteriorates.

- Numerous executive sessions regarding Howell are held.

Late March 2007

- McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails placed anonymously on publisher's desk at Steamboat Pilot & Today.

March 23, 2007

- BOE-Superintendent retreat facilitated by director of Colorado Association of School Boards.

- Retreat ends when Gleason refuses to amend agenda to include personnel discussion regarding Howell.

- BOE-Superintendent retreat rescheduled for following week.

March 30, 2007

- Rescheduled all-day BOE-Superintendent meeting facilitated by CASB director.

- BOE and Superintendent reach impasse.

April 2, 2007

- Rumors regarding possible Gleason resignation

April 2, 2007

- BOE meeting. Executive session conference call with attorney.

- After BOE meeting adjourns, Gleason confers privately with Howell in her office.

April 3, 2007

- Gleason submits resignation letter to the Board.

April 4 through 5, 2007

- Steamboat Pilot & Today rumored to have explosive story regarding school district.

April 5, 2007

- BOE informed of McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails for first time when Steamboat Pilot offers BOE members opportunity to read them at newspaper office.

- BOE informed of next-day publication.

April 7, 2007

- Publication of McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails in local newspaper.

April 10, 2007

- BOE President Connelly and Vice-President Troeger meet with Howell regarding e-mails.

- Howell discloses she gave e-mail printouts to Stephenson.

- Howell does not tell Connelly and Troeger how she came to possess McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails.

April 11, 2007

- BOE meeting.

- BOE votes to accept Gleason resignation. Resign-ation becomes official.

- BOE launches independent investigation

April 18, 2007

- Gleason claims to have given McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails to newspaper. Does not explain how he obtained them.

May 2 and June 6, 2006

- Howell interviewed by investigator and explains why she ordered staff to do after-hours computer downloading:

1. Budget concerns. DeVincentis possibly over-budget at Strawberry Park Elementary. Financial records needed from DeVincentis computer. However, finance director states that financial records kept only at district office.

2. Unauthorized offer. Letter written by DeVincentis promising stipend to teacher candidate needed to be recovered. However, teacher candidate states that neither verbal nor written stipend offer ever made by DeVincentis.

3. Generalized concerns. Possible documents on DeVincentis computer that could affect newly hired SPE principal.

May 11, 2007

- Board passes resolution asking former BOE members (Stephenson, Gleason, Miller-Freutel, Loomis, Havener) and employees who have possible knowledge about e-mail controversy to cooperate with investigation. All refuse.

May 2007

- Committee formed and petition circulated to recall DeVincentis from BOE. Gleason and Stephenson are prominent members.

Investigator findings

1. Dr. DeVincentis violated the school district's e-mail policy by sending and receiving personal e-mails on the school district e-mail system.

2. Dr. Howell had a right to access the DeVincentis computer, since it was a school district computer, and Dr. DeVincentis did not have a right of privacy in June 2005. It was appropriate for Dr. Howell to share the e-mail information with Mrs. Stephenson, the School Board president.

3. Dr. Howell could have done a better job in protecting the e-mail information, since it was not public information, but confidential and which the district might need some day. The e-mail should have been put in the DeVincentis personnel file and preserved for at least two years. After being informed of the decision in Board of County Commissioners of Arapahoe County v. Denver Publishing Company and the election of Dr. DeVincentis to the Board, steps should have been taken to secure and protect this information.

4. Pat Gleason violated school district policies by releasing the e-mails to the press.

Board of Education

conclusion

1. The investigation was made unnecessarily difficult because several former BOE members refused to cooperate.

2. There were numerous violations of policy. These will be discussed with the superintendent and addressed.

3. The BOE will strengthen policies which concern access to staff computers by district personnel and the essential need for district personnel and board members, past and present, to maintain confidentiality of district information.

4. Paula Stephenson should have returned or destroyed her copies of the McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails.

5. Pat Gleason violated school board policy and also widely-held principles of confidentiality and ethics by making the McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails public.

Although we have invested a considerable amount of time and accepted additional responsibilities because of the controversy, the Board has not failed to recognize and fulfill its duties. We remain focused on doing what is best for our students.

Comments

Martha D Young 7 years, 5 months ago

Thank you for publishing the chronology of the e-mail disgrace. It seems that none of the involved parties came away with clean hands. I only wish the Pilot & Today had been aware of the Jefferson County decision before publishing the e-mails.

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