AAHS board candidate admits to lying in email as a juvenile

An email has surfaced that links Altoona Area school board candidate Jesse Ickes to impersonating a school director two years ago while he was a 16-year-old high school student.

Ickes confirmed he sent the email in December 2011 and that he posed as a school board member to get information.

“I was naive, and I wanted information,” Ickes said.

In the email to an executive of Scholastic Corp., the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, Ickes claimed he was a school board director and was seeking information about an all-expenses-paid trip for Superintendent Dennis Murray and former Assistant Superintendent Norm Miller to Naples, Fla., for a Scholastic Education function.

“I admit I was foolish about obtaining information that I thought should be public,” he said. He said he had tried to reach Scholastic several times and tried to search the event on the Internet.

School district administrators reprimanded Ickes within days for the email. Ickes said he doesn’t understand why the incident two years ago didn’t remain confidential.

“I accepted the consequences then, and since that time I have been dedicated to excellence at the Altoona Area School District, mostly through attending board meetings and talking with students,” he said. “I’m disappointed this didn’t remain a student-administrator matter.”

District spokeswoman Paula Foreman confirmed that district administrators received the email in 2011 from Scholastic. Ickes was subsequently called into the principal’s office for his actions.

“There was no disciplinary action because it did not involve school – it did not happen on school grounds,” Foreman said. “They [high school principal Patricia Burlingame and former assistant high school Principal Ben Brenneman] questioned why he did it and expressed disappointment. I don’t have any information on any potential [email] leak.”

The message, addressed to Scholastic Account Executive Joseph Belotti, begins: “Hello, my name is Jesse Ickes and I am a current Board of Director for the Altoona Area School District. I am e-mailing you today in regards to the event of a Scholastic Education function being held in Naples, Florida. Currently this trip is about to be voted on this evening by the Board of Directors, however, I have some last minute questions. What I would like to do would be to call you once I am finished with school and yes, I am only 18 years of age and I am a school board director! If it is not a problem, I’ll call you around 1:10 in order to ask about the last minute questions…Thanks, Jesse Ickes, Altoona Area School District Board of Director.”

A copy of the 2011 email was printed out and left in board candidate John Klingeman’s mailbox three or four weeks ago. “I was shocked when I received it in my mailbox,” Klingeman said. He said he suspects it came from the school.

“I’m not interested in persecuting this young man,” Klingeman said. “No one is trying to keep him out of the political arena. Voters need an opportunity to consider questions about whether he is mature enough to serve on the school board at this point in his life.”

Board member Sharon Bream, one of Ickes’ supporters maintains her support.

“He was young. He is still young. He learned from it. That is the type of kid Jesse is,” Bream said. “He never denied it. He admitted it.”

Ickes said wanted information because, “I wasn’t sure if it [the trip] was legitimate,” Ickes said.

Ickes said that he had spoken with people who told him someone should look into what the trip was about because the district had not given details, he said.

“About four to six national events supporting literacy and mathematics instruction are held per year,” Belotti said. School administrators across the country attend.

“These events are educational, there is no selling [Scholastic products] that goes on. Their primary goal is to bring educators together … as an opportunity for educators from across public sectors to come together in collegial environment and learn about challenges each other faces, share information and learn about current research in mathematics and literacy,” Belotti said. “It’s an opportunity for them to grow.”

The board had approved Miller and Murray to attend the Scholastic conference from Feb 8-10, 2012. Foreman said meeting minutes state Scholastic covered air travel, lodging and major meals for Miller and Murray. The district was to cover incidental charges, she said. The district could not immediately provide that amount.

Ickes was not disciplined, so there is no record of the incident on his educational record, he thinks.

“The only people who had that email were administrators and me,” Ickes said. Belotti may have also had the email. Belotti told the Mirror he did not leak the email and has no ties to the district other than serving as its Scholastic account executive.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.