Outspoken school board member says mass email to teachers blocked

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 3, 2013 

Newly elected Beaufort County school board member Mike Sanz says district leaders are thwarting his attempts to reach out to teachers and staff to try to improve school discipline.

The district's interim superintendent said Sanz's email was blocked because of concerns about computer security.

Sanz said he tried Jan. 25 to send an email to 1,625 teachers explaining how he hoped the board could support them. He also requested their feedback.

Sanz, who represents Hilton Head Island on the board, said he sent an email to interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm asking why his message was blocked but never got a response.

"I simply want to follow through on my campaign pledges," Sanz wrote in an email to The Island Packet. "More than anything, I want to support these teachers so that they can be most effective for the kids."

Rosswurm said the district's email system is set up to prevent people with unauthorized accounts from sending messages to large groups. The policy is designed to prevent the spread of computer viruses and keep teachers' email boxes from filling with unwanted messages.

Board members are not authorized to send messages to all 1,625 teachers as a group.

Rosswurm said she told Sanz she needed to confer with the district's technology staff to see which distribution groups were restricted to board members.

But before she heard back, board chairman Bill Evans intervened.

Evans told Sanz and the rest of the board in an email that they need to decide how best to address the staff and faculty, so as not to confuse teachers with mixed messages.

"To be effective, staff have to see us working together and have a cohesive message," he said Friday. "No one is trying to restrict his ability to communicate. There's just more effective means. ... A committee structure provides a consistent way to seek responses from staff and recommend board action."

Evans hesitated to declare Sanz's message to staff a violation of the board's governance policy, which sets district policies but leaves day-to-day management to the superintendent. However, Evans said the email is "a violation of the board's understanding as to where our authority is."

"We have authority under state law as a board, not as 11 individuals," he said.

It is not the first time the outspoken Sanz, elected in November to represent a portion of Hilton Head Island, has been in hot water with school district officials for sending all district employees an email.

The former Bluffton High School science teacher lost email privileges and had his district-issued laptop confiscated in 2010 after he sent a message from his district account saying three "pillars" of quality education -- respect, discipline and courage -- have eroded in county schools.

Officials said Sanz violated district policy, which prohibits sending an annoying or unnecessary message to a large number of people.

He also used the laptop to outline ideas for an education consulting company he has since started that is based on the three pillars. He also has started an anti-bullying campaign.

Sanz said the Jan. 25 email he wanted to send to teachers was not a solicitation or promotion for his consulting services or his anti-bullying effort.

"I have no intention of trying to make money through any school or any part of the ... school district," he said.

A draft of Sanz's email said he shared teachers' concerns about little time for class preparation, ineffective professional development, lack of support for addressing discipline and pressure to limit the number of discipline referrals they write.

"Some faculty members have expressed concern that their job might be in jeopardy if they honestly and sincerely share points of concern," Sanz said Friday. "They need some mechanism of communicating that. ... I don't want to throw propaganda at them. I want an open invitation to them to tell (board members) how they're doing."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related content:

School district still considering response to outspoken teacher's e-mail: May 19, 2010

Meeting called by frustrated teacher draws 20 to try to fix Beaufort schools: July 28, 2010

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