Disciplinary letters detail Geneva teachers' prohibited election activities

GEA asserts letters go too far for teachers' unintentional missteps

GENEVA – Geneva District 304 released copies of four Notices to Remedy of discipline against four teachers officials in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The notices state that Kimberley Hardt, Jason Santo, Lisa Murphy and to Cathy Fuller violated board policy, the school code and the state ethics law by intentionally using school property or resources for prohibited political activities during the April 2 campaign for school board.

Prohibited political activities listed are:

• Preparing for, organizing or participating in any political meeting, political rally, political demonstration or other political event

• Distributing, preparing for distribution or mailing campaign material on behalf of any candidate for elective office

• Campaigning for any elective office

• Managing or working on a campaign for elective office

Board policy requires that an application must be made to the superintendent if someone wants to use school facilities for private purposes, the letters stated.

Notices were issued to Hardt on April 22, to Santo and Murphy on April 23 and to Cathy Fuller on April 24.

School Board President Mark Grosso said the Notices to Remedy are disciplinary letters placed in the teachers’ files.

Santo’s letter states that on March 19, he organized and hosted a private political forum where he interviewed three of nine candidates running for school board in a Geneva Middle School South classroom.

“And with the cooperation of others, knowingly livestreamed the event on a public Facebook page for the purpose of endorsing and promoting the select panel of candidates,” the letter stated.

Santo did not have authorization or permission from school officials to host the campaign event on school property, the letter stated.

Fuller’s letter restated the same charges as against Santo, that she was present for the unauthorized livestream candidate video.

It also charges that prior to March 19, Fuller “participated with others in the organization and planning of the forum.”

Fuller’s letter also charges that she caused election campaign materials addressed to the district’s teachers to be delivered to five schools “with the expectation that the packages would be accepted, handled and processed by school staff for delivery to the teachers through each school’s mail system.”

Murphy’s Notice to Remedy states that she solicited three of nine school board candidates to visit her kindergarten classroom in March, one of whom was Katherine Frye.

The letter states the three were endorsed as a single slate of board candidates, but does not name them.

Frye and the other two – Robert Cabeen and Alicia Saxton – were endorsed by the Geneva Education Association.

On April 1, the day before the April 2 election for school board, Frye served as a volunteer in Murphy’s classroom for an hour, the letter stated.

Frye later posted a promotional video on her campaign Facebook page – Katherine Frye for Board of Education District 304 – describing her classroom experience with Murphy’s students, the letter stated.

Murphy posted a comment on the video page: “It was a pleasure having Katie join our classroom this morning! She made herself at home by helping students write and playing math games with them. Having this type of partnership between the teachers, the school board and the community is a dream. Let’s make it a reality tomorrow, Geneva!”

Then after receiving notice of an investigation regarding her possible misconduct, the letter charges that Murphy attempted to conceal her actions by removing her comment on Frye’s campaign video from public view.

Hardt’s Notice to Remedy letter was because she used the Geneva Middle School South address for the teachers union’s political action committee, Geneva Educators 4 Students, without authorization.

Each letter also states that they must not violate these specific board policies, as well as “all other board policies” for the remainder of their employment.

“Your failure to comply with each and every requirement of this Notice to Remedy may result in termination of your employment,” the letter stated.

In a statement, GEA President Kevin Gannon said the school board should re-think the way it handled this issue.

"A Notice to Remedy clearly restricts our teachers from engaging in the lawful conduct of being actively engaged in our local political process at a public forum,” according to Gannon’s statement. “They were acting as engaged citizens with their conduct; however, the district has chosen to discipline them for prohibited political activity using school district resources or school district property."