Was This Really an "Email Policy" Resignation?
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Language and Issue Spotting
The Superintendent's Affair
Nancy Sebring was one of Iowa's most outstanding, solid, well-regarded school superintendents. In Des Moines, she was leading one of the state's largest and most challenging school districts.
I recall meeting her when a great grandchild of mine was in her school system, and talking school board issues with her (as a former member of the school board for the Iowa City Community School District). She was as impressive in person as was her record on paper.
In May of this year she announced she would be resigning as superintendent, and later that she was accepting a comparable position in an even larger school district: Omaha.
Then, over a weekend, it all came crashing down.
It turned out she had sent some personal emails to a friend, using school computers and Internet connections. Because both the school district and the media considered these emails "public records" under Iowa law, once requested they were handed over and soon spread upon the front pages of major newspapers.
Why this media and public interest? These were not simple, brief emailed requests like, "Honey, please pick up some milk on you way home tonight," or, "Could we make lunch next Wednesday instead of Monday?" These were romantic exchanges with someone other than her husband, characterized as "an affair." E.g., "revelations of the affair were made public on Friday." Lee Rood, "Sebring tries to stop release of more emails," Des Moines Register, June 7, 2012.
It was the stuff of the gossipy, privacy-violating, sometimes fictional, supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, with the illustrative headlines from its current online issue: "Mitt Romney Backstreet Abortion Shocker," "Travolta's Six-Year Affair with Male Pilot," "World's Fattest Bride," "Cops Probe Psycho Cannibal Porn Killer in Hollywood," "Zombie Apocalypse Now," and "The Dingo Did Eat Her Baby."
Can you imagine how the Enquirer would handle and headline the Sebring story? Perhaps: "Iowa School Officials Cool to Administrator's Hot Sex."
Now don't get me wrong, judging, let alone condoning, the propriety of the superintendent's actions -- whether the relationship or her use of school computers to maintain it -- is not the subject of this blog entry.
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To find out what is the subject, and how I try to sort through the issues regarding her "affair," go to