The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 15, 2014

Midd-West board suspends acting superintendent

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— MIDDLEBURG — The Midd-West school board announced Monday night that acting Superintendent Daphne Snook has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into a breach in the district’s email system.

The breach was discovered by accident, and Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch was notified immediately, board President Victor Abate told a crowd of about 150 faculty, staff and residents who came out to confront the board about ongoing controversies in the district.

Piecuch said he referred the board’s complaint to Middleburg police for investigation. District solicitor Orris Knepp will also be conducting an inquiry into the matter.

“I don’t know if a crime was committed. We will follow the evidence,” Piecuch said, declining to comment further on the district’s personnel issues.

Snook was baffled to learn that a criminal investigation was taking place.

She admits to briefly monitoring board email correspondence, which she said is allowed under the district’s policy on acceptable Internet use. The policy states that electronic mail in the district’s system is not guaranteed to be private and may be reviewed by building and system administrators.

Jim Buckheit, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said it is not unusual for superintendents to monitor Internet use to make sure the technology is being used properly.

“It’s not atypical, particularly now in any public body,” he said. “We need that latitude to monitor it more and more these days.”

Said Snook: “When I think of a breach, I think personal information has gotten into the hands of an unauthorized person.”

Interim chosen

After voting unanimously to suspend Snook, the board appointed Middle School Principal Donna Samuelson to serve as interim superintendent.

Several people — residents and faculty — spoke against the board members’ recent actions and vowed to keep a close watch on how they conduct business.

Former school board member Sue Kinney reminded them about the Sunshine Law and that their decisions have to be made in public. “It’s just a warning,” she said.

Faculty union president Ann Murray said the removal of Snook so soon after the abrupt resignation of Superintendent Wesley Knapp has left school employees confused.

“My concern is that we have no leadership,” Murray said. “The staff has no trust or confidence in the board. They are just dumbfounded.”

Snook was the district’s assistant superintendent and director of curriculum, instruction and technology when Knapp announced his resignation in October amid charges levied by the board that he had lied under oath in a deposition, openly chastised board members and misled or withheld information from the panel.

In December, Snook was tapped to serve as acting superintendent and received $300 each month in addition to her $106,000 annual salary.

Last month, the board voted to eliminate the position of assistant superintendent and separate the director of technology title from director of curriculum and instruction in July.

Abate said those decisions would not affect Snook’s position as director of curriculum and instruction and that the board was continuing to discuss her future with the district.

Controversial program

Many, though, saw the move as a way to edge out Snook who had worked with Knapp and  supported a controversial Reader’s Workshop program that has divided faculty and board members who disagree about its effectiveness.

As the board worked to get the district back on track following Knapp’s controversial departure, it faced more upheaval with longtime director Nancy Kroh facing ouster from a resident petition alleging she was derelict in her duties when she served as board president during most of Knapp’s tenure. A hearing on the petition is scheduled for next week in Snyder County Court.

The board was rocked again when director Scott Norman announced last month in a public letter that he was stepping down after only four months due to a lack of leadership on the board and “dirty politics” being played by some unidentified board members.

More turmoil

That was followed an open letter board member Ronald Wilson sent by email to all district staff, including custodians and faculty, threatening to fire anyone who failed to follow the board’s directions.

Abate said the email was not sent on behalf of the board and that Wilson could face a reprimand. Although Wilson, with Abate at his side, did apologize to a group of about 80 employees in early April, it failed to calm the fears of many.

And now that Snook has been removed from her job in the district where she has worked for six years and had hoped to spend her career, several employees said they now view Wilson’s email as a legitimate threat.

“Trust and confidentially are our biggest issues,” Murray told the board to loud applause. “How are we going to fix this? How do we regain our trust in you?”