School Board releases e-mail investigation report | SteamboatToday.com

School Board releases e-mail investigation report

Mike McCollum

— John DeVincentis violated school policies by sending and receiving personal e-mails on his school computer in 2004 and 2005, and Pat Gleason violated school policies by publicly releasing those e-mails, an attorney who investigated the e-mails has concluded.

The Steamboat Springs School Board on Tuesday released a five-page report on its internal investigation into the DeVincentis e-mails. Grand Junction attorney Earl Rhodes conducted the investigation.

Rhodes concluded Superintendent Donna Howell acted appropriately in gathering the e-mails and sharing them with former School Board President Paula Stephenson. But he said Howell could have done a better job of protecting such confidential information.

Howell was traveling Tuesday for a vacation in Canada and said she has not seen the report. However, she said she was not concerned with its contents since she was not involved in making the e-mails public. The report indicates Howell destroyed her copy of the e-mails in 2006.

“I have already put this behind me, and I hope this report will do the same for the Board,” she said. “We have a number of building projects we need to focus on, and we are gathering input on the 21st-century skills a student needs to succeed.”

The Gleason connection

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Gleason said Tuesday he could not comment on the report until he had read it.

He resigned from the School Board after releasing the e-mails to the Pilot & Today, saying he did something he felt was the right thing, but that it conflicted with Board ethics. The report hints Gleason obtained his copy of the e-mails from Stephenson. Neither Gleason nor Stephenson cooperated with the investigation.

The report indicates DeVincentis exchanged e-mails with Mercer Island, Wash., teacher Joby McGowan for more than a year, starting in March 2004 and continuing through June 2005. The report states McGowan initiated the e-mail exchanges.

In the e-mails, McGowan and DeVincentis are highly critical of former Steamboat Superintendent and current Mercer Island Superintendent Cyndy Simms. The e-mails include several jokes about her personal life.

DeVincentis, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, has apologized for the e-mails and held public meetings to discuss them. But he has refused calls for his resignation.

Gleason and Stephenson now are helping spearhead the Save Our Schools RE-2 group, which filed a recall petition Monday seeking to force DeVincentis onto the November ballot. The petition contains 2,307 signatures; 1,933 valid signatures are required for the recall to proceed.

Policy changes

School Board President Denise Connelly said the report is not Rhodes’ actual investigation report, but a document paraphrased by the Board.

“The investigator findings are verbatim from the (Rhodes’) report,” she said. “We also, of course, have access to transcripts and we have lived through it. We have the background, and we wanted to lay it out in a way people can understand it.”

Connelly said she expects the Board to revise some district policies as a result of the investigation.

“We need to look at our policies, we need to see where they were not followed and kinda work on that,” she said. “We need to see if we need to supplement the policies with other policies to catch any holes to protect the information.”

Connelly said the release of the report is the first step in a long process to ensure the proper handling of district e-mails.

“We don’t know how this is going to go yet,” she said. “We have some information from our school attorney about some directions we might go as far as policies. We just got this together, and there are going to be a lot of ramifications in the system. We had a policy that wasn’t enforced that much, and we are looking to tighten that up.”

Board conclusions

The report included a five-part Board of Education conclusion that blamed former School Board members, Board policy and other violations for the release of the e-mails.

“The investigation was made unnecessarily difficult because several former (Board of Education) members refused to cooperate,” the School Board concluded based on Rhodes’ investigation. “There were numerous violations of policy. These will be discussed with the superintendent and addressed.”

The Board also said Stephenson should have returned or destroyed copies she had of e-mails between DeVincentis and McGowan after Stephenson left the Board in November 2005.

Like Gleason, Stephenson said Tuesday night she had not yet read the investigation report and had no comment.

Connelly said the Board also found Gleason violated School Board policy and “widely-held principles of confidentiality and ethics by making the McGowan-DeVincentis e-mails public.”

The report is available online at Steamboatpilot.com and at the district’s Web site at http://www.sssd.k12.co.us. Hard copies soon will be available at the district’s office in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Seventh Street.