Altoona should probe email leak

Just as the Altoona Area school board appears poised to wrap up one investigation, it needs to launch another.

According to reports, the board will receive a report June 3 into an investigation into several administrative raises that might not have received a board vote. The board launched an investigation after board President Ryan Beers said he could not find in the minutes where raises above the contracted amounts had been approved.

Superintendent Dennis Murray has been on paid leave – sick or administrative – since the matter became public in January.

Now the board faces another serious issue stemming from Tuesday’s primary election and how a email sent by a former high school student became public. The student, Jesse Ickes, was running for a nomination for school board in Tuesday’s election.

Ickes failed to get enough votes to win a nomination on either ballot.

The disclosure of the email could be a violation of federal law regarding student confidentiality.

As a story in Tuesday’s Mirror noted, in 2011, then 16-year-old Ickes wrote to Scholastic Corp. to inquire about an expense-paid trip that Murray and former Assistant Superintendent Norm Miller were to make to Naples, Fla., in February 2012 for one of the company’s educational functions.

In the letter, Ickes said he was 18 years old and a member of the school board, neither of which were true.

The company forwarded a copy of Ickes’ email to the district, and Ickes was called to the principal’s office, where he was questioned about his motives and was told by the principal and assistant high school principal how disappointed they were in him.

Ickes was certainly in the wrong, but AASD spokeswoman Paula Foreman said there was no disciplinary action taken against him.

Ickes admitted to the Mirror that he sent the email while he was a student in a search for information. He said he was disappointed the email was leaked.

Board candidate John Klingeman said someone left a printed copy of the email in his mailbox a few weeks ago.

What’s not known is who leaked the email. A Scholastic account executive said it wasn’t him, and Ickes had no motivation do to so. The school district is only other party known to have a copy of the email.

The school board should find out who in the district had access to the 2011 Ickes’ email and whether anyone leaked the material. That could be a violation of student privacy laws.

It’s incumbent of the board to find out as much as possible about the leak, take disciplinary action if warranted and ensure other employees with access to confidential materials are aware that violations will not be tolerated.

Potential violations of confidentiality laws are a serious matter.

The Altoona Area school board needs to be just as serious in trying to track down as to whether any current or former employee of the district were involved in leaking the Ickes’ email.