Schools investigate politicking

khui@newsobserver.com and tgoldmsith@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2011 

Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata said Friday that an investigation has been launched into whether Enloe High School teachers improperly solicited support for two school board candidates on a school-linked club website.

Tata said officials shut down a link on the website for Enloe's Key Club that solicited volunteers for Democratic school board candidates Susan Evans and Jim Martin. Tata said using a website reachable through the Enloe site to advertise for specific candidates is improper and that the Human Resources Department is investigating whether club advisers knew about the postings.

"Please keep in mind that employees may choose to support or oppose the candidates," Tata said in a memo to staff. "However, this can only occur on their personal time with personal resources."

Cynthia Matson, Martin's opponent in the District 5 school board race, complained about the use of a school website to solicit students' efforts.

"It is disheartening to know that this unethical behavior has been taking place on the other side while I have been conducting a clean campaign on the issues," said Matson, who faced countercharges from Martin that she improperly handed out campaign literature at after-hours school events.

Martin defends website

Martin said the school system had told him that groups independent of the school, such as the PTSA, were allowed to engage in political activity. Even though the Key Club meets at the school, it is an independent group, and its website is not on a Wake County server, he said in a written statement.

"My campaign's engagement with the Key Club began when a Key Club member approached our campaign inquiring whether they as students could participate in democracy, engaging in an election that will have a direct impact on their future," he said.

School board attorney Ann Majestic said schools are allowed to restrict actions that put them in a position of not being neutral in a political matter. She said Wake could shut down the website because it involves students in a school-sponsored club.

"It puts the school in the seeming position of not being neutral in an extremely partisan matter," Majestic said.

Martin said Friday that Matson had inappropriately distributed campaign material on campuses on Meet the Teacher Night and other occasions.

Majestic said it appeared that Matson had violated board policy. But she said that as a layperson it's understandable that Matson may not have known about board policy.

Majestic said directives to principals have clarified that they can't let campaigns distribute material on campus unless it's Election Day and the school is a polling site.

Matson said Saturday that she had discontinued handing out campaign material at schools as soon as she learned that it was not permitted.

Evans: Students made calls

Evans initially said she was not aware that the phone bank activity was listed on the club's website, but sent a clarifying email after talking to a staff member.

"I followed up with my volunteer coordinator who tells me some Enloe Key Club members did come to a phone banking event and make calls for my campaign," she wrote. "Apparently they were able to earn service hours for this."

Enloe, a magnet school near downtown Raleigh, has been a hotbed for opposition to the school board's elimination of the diversity policy. Martin is an Enloe parent, and Evans is a former Enloe parent.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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