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Church State Issues

Gilbert Public Schools censors employee emails

Nov 12, 2014

Arizona Republic

Translation - Gilbert Public Schools censors employee emails


Gilbert Public Schools beefs up e-mail security

Cathryn Creno , The Republic | azcentral.com 9:50 a.m. MST November 11, 2014

The Gilbert Public Schools has changed the security on its e-mail system to prevent outside e-mails from being sent to the entire district staff.

On Nov. 10, an e-mail from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona to Gilbert Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and district board members about the issue of redacting pages of an honors biology book that contain information about abortion was forwarded to all district employees by a gmail account user.

The ACLU says the mass distribution did not come from anyone on its staff.

At first, district officials thought the e-mail system had been hacked. Only a handful of district employees has access to send messages to the entire staff. Outsiders are not supposed to have that access.

"When I got it, I thought it was an e-mail from the district to 'all staff,'" said district spokeswoman Irene Mahoney-Paige.

The district's technology staff Monday found that the user of the gmail account was able to reach the staff via a group e-mail distribution list that no one realized could be accessed by the public, Mahoney-Paige said.

She said the list apparently was shared with the gmail account user.

"The tech services department has now changed the configuration on the e-mail server, and it is no longer possible for someone outside the district to send e-mail to group distribution lists," Kishimoto said in an statement.

"Our e-mail system was not 'hacked' and there are no security issues."

Although at least one school board member thinks law enforcement should be called in to investigate, Mahoney-Paige said there are no plans to contact the police.

The forwarded ACLU letter voiced concerns that board member Julie Smith would begin redacting copies of the book "Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections' (Seventh Edition), at Gilbert Classical Academy on Monday morning.

The board has been expected to decide how exactly to handle redacting the textbook at a Tuesday, Nov. 18, meeting. No action was expected to be taken to edit the books before then.

Smith calls the concerns mentioned in the ACLU letter "a slanderous lie."

The rumor apparently started on social media late last week.

Susan Keuter, a parent who has been at odds with the board's conservative majority on district issues, said board members have accused her of starting and spreading the rumor about Smith. But she had not even heard about it until she received a copy of the ALCU letter Sunday.

The board voted 3-2 in late October to edit the biology book, which has a chapter that discusses abstinence, birth-control methods, sterilization and drugs that can induce abortion. A 2-year-old state law requires public schools to "present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion."

ACLU communications Director Steve Kilar said his organization had heard from parents last week that Smith planned to edit the textbooks and then photograph students holding the books. He said his organization sent a letter to Kishimoto and the school board over the weekend but was not involved in the mass distribution of the e-mail to district employees.

"Anything that's from us would come from an acluaz.org address," he said.

Board members, meanwhile, expressed exasperation with the rumor and the mass e-mail.

Board President Staci Burk fired back an e-mail to the ACLU stating that she was "befuddled" that an organization attorney would assume that "a social media posting was fact and without investigation believe it to be true and spend your weekend sending such an e-mail to the board."

Board member Daryl Colvin, who with Burk and Smith, voted in favor of redacting the textbooks, called the rumor and e-mail to employees an example of a "power struggle" over control of Gilbert schools and its policies.

"The story (about Smith) is so preposterous I was about to laugh — until I heard about the e-mail," he said.

"I think a call to the police would be well-justified," he added.

Board member Jill Humpherys, who voted against redacting the textbooks, however, has a different view.

"It was a pretty credible rumor when you consider some of the decisions of the board," she said.

Humpherys said she believes many Gilbert residents are "up in arms" about the textbook vote and don't trust the board to follow the desires of the community.