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Bonfield's mean-spirited call for firing of 3 oversteps her role

Hernando School Board member Dianne Bonfield wants a pound of flesh for the holidays. Bonfield said last week that three employees — a principal, assistant principal and kindergarten teacher — should be terminated for their roles in a teacher-produced political e-mail targeting incumbent School Board members in October.

Bonfield has no authority over most district personnel matters. Her call for such harsh ramifications on previously disciplined employees demonstrates mean-spirited leadership and an unnecessary public second-guessing of the superintendent's management.

Bonfield resurrected the issue Dec. 14 with prepared remarks at a Hernando School Board meeting in which she said, in part, "We need to send a message to our employees that violations of policy will not be tolerated and that severe discipline will go to those that do.''

The crime? A kindergarten teacher at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics used a district e-mail to urge other kindergarten teachers to vote for Cynthia Moore over incumbent Sandra Nicholson in the Nov. 2 Hernando School Board race. Moore won by 38 votes. District policy prohibits employees from soliciting support for political candidates during work hours and forbids using school equipment, including e-mail accounts, for political purposes at all times.

The e-mail, from teacher Jessica Nicolai, also targeted incumbents Bonfield and John K. Sweeney and urged teachers to "vote them out.'' Perhaps the more embarrassing crime is Nicolai's faulty knowledge of civics. Bonfield and Sweeney had won re-election two months earlier in the Aug. 24 primary.

However, it is disturbing that Nicolai and fellow teacher Jayneen Mann, who resigned after forwarding Nicolai's comments to her classroom parents, professed no knowledge of the district policy banning politicking on public time. It should be simple common sense among public employees, but the episode demonstrates the district's training is lacking. Bonfield would better serve the public by wondering how widespread ignorance of district rules is among the employees.

Instead, Bonfield said Nicolai, assistant principal Cindy Stewart and principal Sue Stoops needed to be fired. The e-mail was sent shortly after the three incumbents supported ending mandatory volunteer requirements for parents at Challenger and Chocachatti Elementary. A board majority later reversed that and said parents failing to meet the volunteer hours would be instructed to meet with school staff, but their children would not be penalized.

The teachers received written reprimands and the administrators received "letters of direction'' to avoid politically related conversations at school and to reaffirm the district policies with their staffs. Nicolai sent a written letter of apology to superintendent Bryan Blavatt. She would have been wise to copy it to board members.

Bonfield, meanwhile, shouldn't construe a single episode of poor judgment as a firing offense and would show better judgment herself if she allowed Blavatt to handle the job for which she hired him.

Bonfield's mean-spirited call for firing of 3 oversteps her role 12/25/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 24, 2010 5:17pm]
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