Cape Henlopen School Board: Banning Books And Emails

Filed in Delaware by on July 14, 2014

I’m sure everyone is familiar with latest book banning drama from the Cape Henlopen School Board.  If not, here’s the recap:

Cape Henlopen School District’s decision to take a book off a summer reading list for incoming high school freshmen has drawn protests from librarians, some parents and teachers.

The young-adult book, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” which features a main character who is gay, was removed from the list by the school board in late June. The board majority cited foul language, not sexual orientation, as the reason for their action.

Which was followed by this:

Several Cape Henlopen School Board members indicated a willingness to reconsider their vote last month to remove a young adult novel from a freshman summer reading list at a Thursday meeting where librarians and a parent criticized them for it.

Now, this isn’t the first time the Cape Henlopen School Board went after a book.  It’s obviously a “thing” for this school board.

But today’s article in the Cape Gazzette brings a new tactic to the the table.

Danforth’s letter was not the only letter to the board. Brittingham forwarded a selection of letters to the Cape Gazette.

Chris Spicer, identified as a Cape High parent, questions what damage would have been done if the book was kept on the list.

“I feel strongly that the value of the content of this book far outweighs any poor language. You as a board member are empowered to make decisions for a public school system that should promote the best opportunities for all students,” Spicer writes.

In another email, Joe Niemand, who identifies himself as “a gay man who would like things to be easier for future generations,” sarcastically thanks the board for a knee-jerk, homophobic reaction.

“As a result of your ignorance and prejudice, this book will receive a tremendous amount of attention over the coming weeks,” he writes.

In responding to all the emails, Brittingham thanks the writer for their concern and stands by the board’s decision to remove the book from the list based on the language. [emphasis mine]

First, did the Cape Gazette file an FOIA requesting those emails?

Second, why would the Cape Gazette only publish the emails (complete with the email writers’ names) that disagreed with the board?  Did Brittingham forward all the emails surrounding this issue, or just these?  And was he complying with FOIA request, or did he just forward a selection of emails to the Cape Gazette on his own?  That’s a pretty big question.

Why aren’t the emails (and their authors’ names) complaining about the book listed in the article?  Why are they still referred to as “parents” in articles?  When will their emails and identities be published? (FYI: I don’t think anyone’s personal emails to their elected officials should be published this way.) And should we all be prepared for the emails we send to our elected officials to be published in the newspaper?

Even more interesting, it appears that the people whose private emails (to their elected school board representatives) were published in the Gazette may not have been consulted.

As I write this, I have received confirmation that Chris Spicer was not asked if it was okay for Brittingham to release her email to the press.  She’s not ashamed of her views, but when the people who wrote/complained to have the book removed are anonymous… Well, If I were a Cape parent/citizen, I would think twice before emailing that school board.

It has also come to my attention that parents and citizens have filed a formal complaint with the district demanding that the book be returned immediately to the summer reading list on the grounds that the board failed to follow their own written policy when they voted to remove the book.  Good for them!  Since when does a school board dictate curriculum?  Answer:  Never.

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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (15)

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  1. anon says:

    Correspondence between elected officials and constituents are exempt from FOIA requests, so even if the Cape Gazette filed a FOIA request for the emails, the Board member had no obligation to comply, and he certainly had no obligation to comply without the permission of the parents/citizens.

    This is nothing short of intimidation.

  2. pandora says:

    Thanks for the answer. I wasn’t sure. And I agree that this stinks of intimidation.

  3. Mike Matthews says:

    And I thought Cape was supposed to be the “progressive” district in that County? Wow…

  4. anon says:

    This comment just got posted on the Cape Gazette article by Spicer’s husband:

    Not super happy about my wife’s name being printed in this article. Her email was a private email to the school board. Then Saturday morning we are sitting together on the couch and find her email in the newspaper. She is proud of her email and stands by it. So do I. But was this an intimidation tactic by the school board President? In other words do citizen voters have to worry about emails they send to the board being published without consent? Cape Gazette, I love ya but please explain. FYI, I have some wild emails from board members in my inbox. Is it okay for you to publish without their permission? Not my style but curious about the answer.

    Spencer Brittingham has some ‘splainin to do.

  5. Mike Matthews says:

    Oh my this could get very interesting. Where’s the popcorn??

  6. SussexWatcher says:

    Emails to/from members of the GA are exempt, not all elected officials.

  7. Thucydides says:

    Check out the meeting agenda from June 12th. No where on that agenda did it state that they would be voting on removing the book from the list. If someone would file paperwork that the vote violated FOIA, they would have a strong case in getting the June 12th vote voided.

  8. Geezer says:

    File this under “S” for “SuxCo”

  9. John Young says:

    Since when does a school board dictate curriculum? Answer: Never.

    Ask it this way: When is a school board supposed to dictate curriculum? Answer: Always.

    So much for local control.

  10. SussexAnon says:

    Cape is not a progressive school district.

    I am sure its a mere coincidence that a gay themed book was banned and a bible themed course was introduced by this board.

  11. Another Mike says:

    SussexWatcher is correct. The only emails that get blanket exemption from FOIA laws are those sent to or from members of the General Assembly. If you email your local school district, county councilman, DelDOT, mayor or another other public official, it is subject to FOIA (with limited exemptions).

    My educated guess is that the school board did not forward those emails in response to a FOIA request. First, public bodies have 15 business days to respond to a request, which is generally reviewed by the district attorney and others before any action is taken. Districts like to take advantage of every day they are allowed, so this would have been an extraordinarily short wait for a response.

    Second, FOIA requests are normally handled by the district’s legal office, communications director or FOIA coordinator if they have one. For a board president to handle this is almost unheard of.

    I would say the board president sent these emails on his own and violated no laws in doing so. In fact, had the Cape Gazette or a private citizen asked for them, the district would be obligated to turn them over.

    As for why the newspaper printed only certain letters, email or call the reporter, Chris Flood, and ask. And Brittingham could answer whether or why only one side of the argument was provided to Flood.

  12. saltyindependent says:

    interesting. i didn’t realize that these emails were forwarded without permission. perhaps they were within their rights to give them to the press. emails cause a lot of problems.

  13. anon says:

    Releasing the emails without a FOIA request would violate the Board’s Ethics Policy, unless unilaterally deciding to release parents/citizens emails to the press somehow builds the “public trust:”

    The Cape Henlopen Board of Education recognizes its power to be a role model for fairness in school governance. To achieve maximum positive results, the following standards are set forth by the Cape Henlopen Board of Education:
    1. As representatives of the citizens of the Cape Henlopen School District, all Board members shall conduct themselves at all times in a manner worthy of the public trust.
    2. Board members shall avoid conflicts of interest and shall not use Board membership for personal gain.
    3. Board members shall strive to avoid the appearance of impropriety that can undermine the trust of the community.
    4. Board members shall operate executive sessions fully in accordance with and in the spirit intended by the sunshine laws, maximizing the trust of the community and maintaining required confidentiality.
    5. A Board member shall make no attempt to take advantage of his/her position by soliciting unilateral action by the superintendent and other staff members.
    6. Board members shall recognize that authority rests only with a quorum of the Board while holding a duly posted meeting, not with committees appointed by the Board as a whole or with individual Board members. As such, no member shall make any personal promise nor take any private action that might compromise the Board or restrict its options.
    7. The Board recognizes that the best solutions and answers come after much discussion, deliberation, and disagreement, and it therefore recognizes the positive and negative aspects of such dissent. However, individual members shall refrain from attacks and criticism of the character of another Board member.
    8. Board members must explicitly and simultaneously state that they are expressing a personally held view when expressing a position or viewpoint in contradiction to established, public Board position(s)/action(s).
    9. Board members shall avail themselves to both state and local orientation opportunities and other board-related, information-sharing opportunities.
    10. New Board members will be provided a local orientation to cover local policies and procedures.
    11. The Board reserves the right to publicly censure a member, by majority vote, for violation of any of the above ethics guidelines.
    I understand these responsibilities as a Board member, and I agree to abide by them throughout my term.

  14. MikeM2784 says:

    This IS progressive compared to the rest of the county…might have had a good ole fashion book burning in the western half….:-)

  15. Elwood says:

    One of you should file a FOIA request for those emails. Don’t wait for the newspaper to do it.

    The newspaper might be reluctant to file that FOIA because it would harm the paper’s relationship with the school board. I’m not saying that it’s right, but that could happen.

    For that reason, one of you should file a FOIA for those emails.