Thursday, October 25, 2007

E-mail: When in Doubt, Don't!

There are many life lessons to be learned thanks to the speedy and global reach of the Internet.

Today's cautionary tale of woe comes to you from Catskill, New York, where the superintendent's choice of words in a hastily composed e-mail has landed her in a heap of trouble with her union, families, students and herself.

According to this morning's New York Times, the superintendent, Dr. Kathleen Farrell, was at odds with teachers over fire and safety codes that required classroom doors to be shut while students were in attendance. Without air conditioning, the rooms became stagnant, causing teachers to prop the doors open. According to the paper:

Back and forth the discussion went, until Oct. 3, when Dr. Farrell wrote an e-mail message to the district’s director of facilities, John Willabay. She vented a bit and then allowed: “Please go KILL these people....Please, please, please.”

Then she sent it — not just to him — but, accidentally, to an unknown number of others as well, including Terri Dubuke, a sixth-grade teacher who was one of the critics. Ms. Dubuke read it in shock and referred it to the teachers’ union, and the matter was discussed at a closed-door school board meeting on Oct. 17.

You can imagine the fallout that ensued: apologies were exchanged. Punishment was demanded. Remorse was rampant. But did the reaction fit the infraction?

Granted, an student e-mail with these same words may likely have garnered equal, if not greater attention. But in looking more carefully at the context of the message, it was clearly unprofessional and inappropriate. But was this issue blown out of proportion?


Matthew K. Tabor said...

File that one under "W" for "Whoops!"

... and then subfile it under "U" for "Understatement."

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a child sending the same email be severely disciplined? Why is an educated woman like this allowed to get away with just a sort of apology?

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if there isn't more to this story than meets the eye. Any administrator who treats his/her staff with respect and is liked by the people who work for them would probably have been able to pass this off as a severe lapse in judgement and would have been forgiven without all of this making news across the country. What had this woman done that only her staff knows?

Chris Rust said...

Never write anything in an email that you wouldn't want on the front page of the newspaper.