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North Putnam stands by teacher suspension vote

Friday, June 22, 2007

North Putnam Cougars
Despite pressure from parents Thursday night, the North Putnam School Board is standing by its decision to suspend a Bainbridge Elementary teacher after she was accused of using her school-issued computer to send adult oriented e-mails.

Board President Dale McGaughey told the BannerGraphic following the school board meeting that a majority of the board members felt second grade teacher Jennifer Porter, who they suspended for a semester without pay, should be given another chance.

"We felt that it didn't warrant destroying a career without giving a second chance," McGaughey said. "As a board, that's what we decided was appropriate."

But many parents who attended Thursday's meeting said they thought the board should have fired Porter.

"If that employee was caught doing things against the (e-mail) policy, that employee should have been fired immediately," Larry Miller told the board. "It's time to put a little pride and dignity back in the North Putnam schools."

Parent Angie Ellis said, "If I don't allow that type of stuff in my home, then why does the school board allow it in the classroom?"

Copies of Porter's 400-page e-mail log, which were sold to the public at large for about $20, include nude images and crude jokes that parents say are pornographic.

McGaughey disagrees with their assessments and says he feels that what one person terms pornographic, someone else might think differently.

In Porter's case, McGaughey believes the images were not meant to arouse; rather they were intended to be humorous. Among the images, he said, was a photo of singer Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" and pictures of body parts with medical abnormalities. He said Porter herself was not depicted in the images.

"The majority (of the board) felt the intent was for shock value and a reaction in humor rather than for sexual content," he said.

McGaughey went on to explain why the board decided to go against the superintendent's recommendation to terminate Porter's teaching contract.

"After going through the evidence, there were some things that were thought to have occurred, and it turns out they didn't," he said.

For that reason, and based on the board's interpretation of what constitutes something pornographic, they decided to suspend, rather than fire, Porter. Board members Andy Beck, Jon Buser, Carl Blau, Mark Fordice, Charlie Boller and McGaughey voted for the suspension last month, while Debbie Sillery voted against it, calling for a stricter sentence.

While the board has made its decision, parents aren't letting the issue drop.

On Thursday night, North Putnam parent Amanda Cox presented the school board with a petition, which she said, contained the names of 160 parents wanting the board to take additional action.

"We would like to know what our board is doing to ensure that the other teachers will not be e-mailing during class time instead of teaching our children," she said.

McGaughey took time after the meeting to outline some of what he would like the board to do, before the start of the new school year, to tighten up the e-mail policy for teachers.

He said he wants to implement a random monitoring program, which he likened to random drug testing. He believes that if a teacher or administrator knows he or she is subject to a random check, they will be less likely to engage in inappropriate behavior on the e-mail or Internet.

He qualified it by saying that he doesn't want to come down on teachers who send an e-mail to a spouse or family member with a non-school related matter such as "I'm working late tonight" or "school is letting out early for a snow day."

"There's gonna have to be a middle ground," he said.

The superintendent has been instructed to put together some suggestions for improving the e-mail policy for teachers, which McGaughey says he hopes can be completed prior the new school year.

Meantime Porter will not be able to return to the classroom until the second semester of the 2007-08 school year and will be denied access to her computer for a period after that

A handful of Porter's supporters turned out Thursday night but did not say anything to the school board.

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