Pasco School Board candidate accuses district of ‘smear’ in Facebook post dispute

Heide Janshon, a co-founder of Opt Out Pasco, is running for Pasco County School Board. [Facebook]
Heide Janshon, a co-founder of Opt Out Pasco, is running for Pasco County School Board. [Facebook]
Published July 5 2018
Updated July 6 2018

A Pasco County parent activist seeking to unseat an incumbent School Board member is crying foul after the district publicly criticized her over a Facebook post in a closed community group.

Heide Janshon, running for the District 3 board seat against two-term member Cynthia Armstrong, wrote a two-sentence message in a private forum for families that had fought past attendance zone changes in the county. [Note: The Gradebook has has not been granted membership to this group.]

"WIREGRASS RANCH HIGH SCHOOL parents," Janshon wrote. "I know at one time we had many of you in this group. I just wanted to give you a heads-up that prior to the new Cypress Creek Middle School opening in the next year, WRHS will have students rezoned to Cypress Creek High School as per Chris Williams at today's [July 2, 2018] School Board workshop."

During a workshop on future construction projects, Williams spoke about the opening of new middle school buildings at Cypress Creek Middle-High School in 2020. He observed that once the facilities are complete, they will create room for more students, likely from overcrowded Wiregrass Ranch High, to move into the campus.

District officials have been warning east-side residents about the pending moves for more than a year.

But they took umbrage at Janshon's time frame — "in the next year" — particularly after families started to call and email with complaints.  So district communications director Linda Cobbe posted a response, calling Janshon's comment "totally false."

Her office also sent an email and robo-call with the same basic information to Wesley Chapel parents. The email was "signed" by superintendent Kurt Browning, whom Cobbe said authorized the response.

"We couldn't post in the forum where she posted the incorrect information," Cobbe said. "In our perception, it was an intentional effort to stir up a community using false information. … We have the responsibility to get the correct information out to those people."

The district never called Janshon to seek a correction or explanation.

"We wanted to get something out quickly. That was not in the playbook," Cobbe said, noting that attendance zones are a "very touchy" subject that the district has to handle delicately.

Some of you may have seen or heard about a social media post by Heide Janshonn. We want you to know that it is totally...

Posted by Pasco County Schools on Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Its effort, however, outraged Janshon, who called the response unprofessional, and perhaps in violation of the district's own social media rules on "appropriate online behavior." She suggested that naming her specifically and accusing her of being a liar to thousands of people was close to cyberbullying.

"It's a public witch hunt," said Janshon, who acknowledged the time frame in her post might have been off but the general plan to rezone Wiregrass Ranch High students was accurate. "The election is two months away."

Many in the online community took her side.

Several residents and supporters called on the district to retract its post and apologize.

"PCS, this is not a good look for you. But, on a positive, you've given me a reason to look into Heide and I think she's a wonderful candidate for the school board," Wesley Chapel resident Ashley Johnson wrote.

Cobbe said "in hindsight" she probably should not have named Janshon in  responding to the statement. She rejected any insinuation that the district was taking sides in the August primary.

"It has nothing to do with who's running for office," Cobbe said.

Janshon questioned that assertion, noting the district has not taken similar actions when concerned about other peoples' social media comments.

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