Solicitation for campaign workers forwarded by principal on Howard public school email

Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A Wilde Lake High School principal used his public school system email to forward a request for workers from Mary Kay Sigaty’s state Senate campaign to the faculty and staff of the Columbia school, violating a school system policy, according to a top school administrator.

Sigaty, the chairwoman of the Howard County Council, is running against state Delegate Clarence Lam for the District 12 Senate seat in the Democratic primary.

Emails soliciting paid “field managers” to campaign for Sigaty at polling places were sent to seven Howard County schools employees, including five principals and two teachers, according to Cathy Smith, a public relations associate who sent the email. Smith is a contract worker for Jean Moon and Associates, a Columbia-based public relations firm owned by Jean Moon, that has been hired to do campaign-related work for Sigaty.

Smith’s emails asked if teachers would be interested in the jobs and if they could share the information with their teams. Howard County schools and school offices are closed Election Day.

Wilde Lake High School Principal Rick Wilson was one of the employees who received Smith’s message and forwarded it to the school’s 202-person staff listserv, according to the school system’s Chief Communication, Community & Workforce Engagement Officer Jahantab Siddiqui.

A copy of the email was provided to the Howard County Times by the Howard County Education Association. The union was sent copies of Smith’s messages by five school system employees.

Wilson declined to be interviewed for this story and referred questions to Siddiqui.

Receiving a campaign email on a school system email address is not against the system’s “Political Activities on School Properties” policy. However, forwarding such an email is prohibited, as it is categorized as “campaign literature or other information that endorses or advocates for a candidacy” and may not be disseminated using school system emails, according to Siddiqui.

Smith said she did not consult the school system’s policy before sending the emails, and was not aware the policy existed. Moon said she was not aware that Smith distributed the solicitation to school employees, calling Smith’s action “spontaneous.”

Sigaty said she had no prior knowledge of the emails and that she was informed about the situation in early June. She called the email dissemination a “mistake,” and that to her knowledge, “no bad intention” was meant.

Lam called the incident “questionable ethically,” and that he was concerned by both Sigaty’s campaign’s decision to send the solicitation to school system email addresses and by Wilson’s decision to forward the message.

Wilson forwarded Smith’s email with the job opportunity solicitation to the Wilde Lake staff listserv May 30; he followed up that email later the same morning with a clarification that the job was a position with a specific campaign, according to the copy of the forwarded email.

According to Siddiqui, Wilson admitted he initially misread the email, believing it was referring to a job opportunity for an elections judge, which is a common position for teachers to take during election season. Wilson forwarded the email based on this incorrect understanding of the contents, Siddiqui said.

After sending the email to the listserv, Siddiqui said that Wilson heard back from some staff members that day with concerns that the email violated school system policy. The principal sent a retraction email the evening of May 30, apologizing for any confusion caused and asking them to disregard the email, according to an email provided by Siddiqui .

Violation of the school system’s employee policy is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, according to Siddiqui, but that it involves a conversation between school system administration and the staff member. Siddiqui said that in most cases, the conversation is all that is necessary, but that if the campaigning persists, discipline may be imposed, which could include termination.

Siddiqui said this was the first incident of improper use of school emails for political purposes that he was aware of this year; he did not know about any cases in past years.

Actions or conversations between the school system and Wilson regarding the incident are a personnel matter and therefore private, according to Siddiqui.

During campaign season, Siddiqui said that school administrators have re-emphasized the school system’s policy prohibiting political activities using school emails and property.

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