By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO October 20, 2006 A scandal involving the use of computers by Middle School Assistant Principal Alfred Heins and three secretaries at the Robert Kaiser Middle School to send and receive racist, pornographic and sexually explicit e-mails, has landed all four on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a school and criminal investigation.
Superintendent Robert Michel announced the broad details of the case on Tuesday, without releasing the names of the individuals. Michel said he could not release their names due to the nature of their collective bargaining agreement. Michel believes at least some of them have violated the school’s policy on the use of its computers. Their punishment will be determined in accordance with the rules of their labor agreements after consultations by the administration and Board of Education with their attorneys when the investigation is complete. It will likely result in disciplinary hearings.
So far, law enforcement officials have not deemed the material in question to be criminal, although Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen has not ruled that possibility out. He described the material as being “extremely offensive.” The district’s technical department is reviewing the computers of then employees and going through each e-mail and checking the hard drive in what should be a highly time consuming process. Monticello Police Department Chief Doug Solomon said his office is continuing to receive content as it is retrieved by the school.
Heins could not be reached for comment. He has been with the school for about three decades and announced his upcoming retirement last year.
Michel was visibly upset about the matter and took the initiative to contact the press and send letters to some parents in the district notifying them of the matter. He said he made a promise to be open and transparent with the public, and intended to stay true to his word.
The district actually became aware of a related issue several months ago when a community member notified the school of a racist e-mail she received from a school employee. However, the resident did not want to release the name of the employee. She was eventually convinced by Shelley Rossitto, Director of Technology, to come forward with the name. By that time, the e-mail had been erased from the subject’s computer.
But on Monday, an employee in the technical department received a racist joke and reported it to Rossitto, who turned it over to the administration. Michel said Rossitto deserved to be commended for her actions.
As a result, the computers were confiscated by the administration and the investigation led them to the four individuals. The e-mails go back as far as January.
According to Michel, the e-mails included terribly racist jokes disparaging African Americans and Hispanics. “That is not who we are and we are not going to tolerate it,” he stated. “People think this is cute and its funny but its wrong. It is not cute and it’s not funny.”
One of the employees was playing pornographic videos on their computer, said Michel. The school’s policy prohibits employees from accessing such material, downloading it or sending it. They must agree to the terms of the policy every time they sign on to their computer.
Michel promised to be more specific about the details if the employees are found to be guilty. He said no students are believed to have received any of the e-mails. He was scheduled to discuss the matter in depth with the Board of Education last night in executive session.
He said he didn’t believe there was much else the school could do to prevent these sort of actions from occurring. The school will investigate the possibility of using better filters on the computers.
Still, Michel pointed out that the employees involved were only four out of about 700. “We’re taking this extremely seriously. I personally am embarrassed. It’s not who we are. It’s not who we represent and who we’re about.”
All staff members have been reminded about the rules pertaining to the use of computers. A letter is also on the school’s web page addressed to district parents on the school’s response to the matter.
“It’s gotten me angry,” concluded Michel. “This is egregious.”