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Pasco principal apologizes after sending campaign e-mail to students, against district's policy

LAND O'LAKES — The Rick Scott for Governor campaign sent an e-mail to Pasco County high school principals pitching the idea of internships and volunteer work for students.

"It is great learning experience and will give students of any grade a chance to see if that might be an avenue they might want to pursue in the future," organizer Alex Melendez wrote in the e-mail.

He even suggested students might earn community service hours while making phone calls, walking precincts and working events with the Republican candidate.

Pasco eSchool principal JoAnne Glenn viewed this as an opportunity for her students and did what seemed natural in the school's online environment: She sent an e-mail to all students letting them know about it.

What she didn't consider was the school district's policy on political activities, which forbids employees from soliciting support for any political candidates during work hours or on district property. The policy further bans candidates or their representatives from doing the same.

Glenn's e-mail was "not consistent with our board policy," district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said.

By midday Tuesday, Glenn had sent out an apology to all students and parents.

"The District School Board of Pasco County does not endorse activities that support or advance any particular political campaign," she wrote. "Please disregard the information we forwarded. I apologize for any confusion or concern this notice may have caused."

Glenn explained that she sent out the information in the same way she distributed the superintendent's recent letter about class size implementation and details about an upcoming college night.

Without a campus bulletin board or a table to provide such notices, she said, the Internet is the best way to get announcements to eSchool students.

"Because so far only the Republican campaign has put that information out, it might appear we are advancing one side over the other. But we are not," Glenn said. "Our goal isn't to advance any political agenda."

She said her primary thought was that students might want to participate and learn about the campaign process. If Scott's Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, had made a similar request, she said, she would have handled it the same way, prior to learning she had run afoul of the district policy.

The Scott campaign reached out to other school districts. It didn't even get past a gatekeeper in Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said she told the campaign not to bother sending the request because it would violate that district's rules on political activities.

Pasco School Board vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley said she did not believe Glenn sought to violate policy.

"It was just a mistake," Hurley said. "She realized it and she made it right. That's the best you can do."

Earlier this year, the Pasco School Board denied Sink the use of Gulf Middle School to film a campaign ad, stating it did not want the schools in the middle of the state's political battles.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco principal apologizes after sending campaign e-mail to students, against district's policy 09/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 12:27pm]
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