MANCHESTER, NH — A school board member who used social media and his public access TV show, “Girard at Large,” to expound on a student privacy issue that arose during a Nov. 13 school committee meeting has been threatened with legal action.
A letter dated Nov. 26 (see below) was sent to At-Large school board member Rich Girard via the school district from Attorney Karen Hewes on behalf of Central senior Rachel Phelan.
- Phelan: As students we all share in our teachers’ burden during these stalled contract negotiations
- Did Girard violate district policy by contacting student via school email?
Hewes in the letter accuses Girard of violating the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by publishing confidential information associated with Phelan’s student email account. Phelan, who is an editor for The Little Green, Central’s student newspaper, had published an opinion piece in October in which she encouraged her fellow students to support teachers working without a contract. Phelen took issue with the school board for “stalling” negotiations, and said the district’s negotiation committee “repeatedly refused to meet Manchester teachers’ contract proposals that would give teachers fair compensation. Not only is this blatant disrespect and disregard for the quality of Manchester’s teachers, but it has also caused the district to lose excellent new teachers who receive better compensation in other districts.”
Girard happens to chair the school board’s negotiation committee. He took issue with Phelan’s op/ed and, several weeks later, used his access to the district-wide email list, which includes student accounts, to send an email directly to Phelen “to correct” her opinion piece.
The issue was made public during the Nov. 13 school board meeting and led the board to discuss the current email policy, which allows board members access to confidential student information. They moved to review the policy.
Mayor Joyce Craig at that time told Girard it was inappropriate for him to contact a student directly. Girard said he felt he did nothing wrong, and said controversy was stirred artificially as a “political hit job” against him.
Two days after the school board meeting Girard used his public access TV show, “Girard at Large,” to expound further on the email issue, defending himself while questioning reaction coming from Phelan and her supporters:
“It seems a graaaave injustice has been done,” said Girard in opening the program. “I’m a bad man because I, your humble host, contacted a student in the Central High School Little Green newspaper, and I in doing so crossed a sacred line that’s supposed to prevent school board members from having direct contact with students, and somehow I became a creepy individual because I went through a process to find an email address and, according to the mayor, that person may have been uncomfortable that I sent an email, and therefore it’s inappropriate and should not have been done,” Girard said during his Nov. 15 program.
In the letter sent Monday Hewes requested Girard remove all posts on his website and social media accounts where there was discussion of Phelan and her article.
“While the Manchester School District violated FERPA by allowing you and other BOSC members to have acess to student information, this does not give you permission to publish Ms. Phelan’s confidential information. Nor does it give you the right to attempt to publicly embarrass her, intimidate her, chill her speech, disparage her or, as you describe, to make her feel “uncomfortable,” wrote Hewes.
“Additionally I’m requesting you stop your November 15, 2018 video from airing further on Manchester Public TV,” and to “stop discussing Ms. Phelan publicly and at any BOSC meetings. Failure to comply with these requests will result in a request for injunctive relief.”