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TMCNet:  School Board member battles with teacher over privacy

[February 27, 2013]

School Board member battles with teacher over privacy

Feb 27, 2013 (Florida Keys Keynoter - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Monroe County School Board member Robin Smith-Martin and John Dick have come out on opposing sides of an ongoing debate about teacher privacy.

Dick raised the issue when he received a complaint from a teacher fearing her computer was being remotely accessed for something other than routine maintenance.

After some initial confusion, Superintendent Mark Porter explained that the district Information Technology Department could indeed remotely access computers, including audio/video monitoring through microphones and cameras in classrooms.

He said the software, which costs about $5,000 per year, is primarily used to repair computers offsite.

At a Feb. 12 School Board meeting, Smith-Martin suggested Dick fears a "boogie man." He also referred to the suggestion of covert electronic snooping as a fear of "alien computer hackers." He even went so far as to get into a terse e-mail exchange with Glynn Archer Elementary School teacher Lisa Gardi after she sent him a message complaining that he was dismissing an important issue.

"This is not an area the board should weigh in on as a policy-making body," Smith-Martin wrote Gardi on Feb. 20. "And pressuring board members to make speculative and conspiratorial comments will only lead to less resources in the classroom." He also references Gardi's husband Matt, a former candidate for state House and county clerk and runs a political commentary website.

"Perhaps you should leave the political acrimony and gotcha journalism to Matt," Smith-Martin wrote. In a follow-up e-mail, Lisa Gardi called that a "personal attack." "This is a problem for me," she wrote. "Do we need a policy written Maybe. Ethically, I think it's an issue and it does lead to a bit of mistrust in the system. When does it become an issue the board should weigh in on " Reached Tuesday, Smith-Martin, was reluctant to talk on the record, saying only, "My statement is if we're going to remote-in to staff members' computers, we need to have a disclaimer to cover us legally." Dick has railed against the software potential as an invasion of teacher privacy.

"I have been around visiting schools and I've gotten concerns from a large amount of the staff including administrators ... wanting to know what the situation is going to be," Dick said.

"This is a real thing," he said. "Government intrusion on rights of privacy is very serious to me. While some board members might think it's a minor issue, to me this is an extremely major issue." Board Chairman Andy Griffiths said he doesn't want to "get between two colleagues." Former district Audit and Finance Committee member Larry Murray, a frequent schools critic, said Smith-Martin's treatment of Gardi is in line with other recent behavior. He pointed out that in January Smith-Martin found himself issuing a public apology for remarks he made after the suicide of Key West High School student Matthew Gilleran.

In that instance, Smith-Martin chalked the situation up to Gilleran's "unfettered" access to a gun.

In a Jan. 29 e-mail from his School District account to local blogger Sloan Bashinsky, Smith-Martin used some crass language, adding, "Apologies for the profanity, folks, but it came from the heart." Murray said Smith Martin "appears to be on a campaign to offend as many people as possible. I believe [he] is out of control and needs to be reined in." ___ (c)2013 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.) Visit the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.) at www.keysnet.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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