A letter written by two Dover High parents to the Capital Board of Education members about the pending transfer of a teacher at the school, was never intended for the Dover Post and appears to have been sent to the newspaper with a forged return address.
A letter written by two Dover High parents to the Capital Board of Education members about the pending transfer of a teacher at the school was never intended for the Dover Post and appears to have been sent to the newspaper with a forged return address.
Kay Conaway said she and her husband sent the letter exclusively to the five members of the Capital school board. But a copy of that letter was sent, with the Conaway’s return address typed on the envelope, to the Dover Post as a “Letter to the Editor.”
When shown the letter and envelope, Kay Conaway said she had handwritten each of five envelopes and mailed them only to the home addresses of each school board member. She said she, nor her husband, sent a copy to the Dover Post.
In the letter, the Conaways criticized what had been widely viewed in the community as Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas’ attempt to trade physical education teacher Bob Healy’s spot at Dover High with that of his son, Colin Thomas, the physical education teacher at William Henry Middle School, an assistant coach with the Dover High football team. Healy was reassigned to Henry Middle for the 2012-2013 school year.
But Thomas denied the nepotism charges when asked to respond to the content of the Conaway letter – a letter the Conaways say was never intended for the Dover Post.
Kay Conaway confirmed the existence of the letter to the newspaper, but she and her husband declined to comment further on the situation, or to speculate as to whom might have sent the letter using her name and home address.
Four of five school board members – Board President Kay Dietz-Sass, Vice President Phillip Martino, Dr. Raymond Paylor and Matthew Lindell – spoke to the Dover Post and denied sending the letter. Only school board member Brian Lewis, who joined the board in 2011, did not return repeated telephone calls and email messages seeking comment.
The Dover Post first called the state Office of the Attorney General to ask if any laws may have been broken if indeed the letter was sent by a third party with the Conaways’ return address. Delaware Department of Justice spokesman Jason Miller deferred to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on the matter.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service reviewed the details of how the Conaway letter ended up in the hands of the Dover Post and “did not see any laws broken,” U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokeswoman Margaret D. Williams said.
It is unclear whether there could be ethics charges brought if the person who sent the letter is identified.
In the meantime, Dietz-Sass said board members are left struggling to repair relations between the school board, the Conaways and all of the public, for that matter. She apologized on behalf of the board to the Conaways, who had graciously accepted that apology.
“They’re very kind people,” she said.
All school board members go through orientation and training conducted by the Delaware School Boards Association, Dietz-Sass said. That includes how to protect issues of confidentiality and the individual right to privacy that constituents have.
“I don’t want people to feel like they can’t come to us,” she said.
Sometimes, constituents come to school board members privately because they want to protect the identity of their children, Dietz-Sass said.
“My parents used to tell me that trust is like a savings account,” Dietz-Sass said. “You only have so much in it. Every time you do something wrong, you withdraw from that. And it takes a long time to build interest.”
School board members reached for comment declined to speculate on who could have sent the letter. But they agreed that it was important to protect the privacy of community members reaching out to them as their elected representatives.
Paylor reiterated the fact that confidentiality was stressed to anyone joining the board.
“Within the past year, [confidentiality] doesn’t seem to be important,” he said. “There seems have been a culture shift. “
Lindell said he had been away on vacation and had not had a chance to respond to the Conaway letter. He was elected to the board in May and was sworn into office in July.
“If someone wanted to go to the press, then they would have sent their letter to the press,” Lindell said.
Dietz-Sass said she would not be surprised if Kay and Michael Conaway rose up to deny sending the letter to the Dover Post during public comment at Wednesday night’s meeting. If that turned out to be the case, Dietz-Sass advised them that each would have two minutes to address the board.
“We couldn’t enter into a conversation about that and would have stick to the same rules and regulations that apply to everyone,” Dietz-Sass said.
The school board is likely to revisit its policies in light of the Conaway letter, Dietz-Sass said.
“I don’t think this is anything we’ve run into before,” she said. “We all have the right to say whatever we want to say. But, at the same time, there is information that needs to be kept to the board and I just hope everybody understands the importance of that. I want the community to have faith and trust in that.”