Kyrene Governing board member John King ran into a buzzsaw of criticism on Twitter last week over his response to a district resident’s email urging caution in deciding when schools should reopen for in-class instruction.
It all started when Katie Giel, a first-year student at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law wrote King as a 2008 graduate of Altadeña Middle School.
“I appreciate how difficult these past few months must have been for the governing board and know that you have had the best interest of our community at heart,” she wrote on July 22.
“I’m concerned about the safety of my beloved former teachers. The sad reality is that there is no way to ensure the safety of the staff with students at the school. I know many parents are desperate for childcare, but I’m sure we can agree that nothing is more valuable than the lives and health of the staff and students in our schools. If the virus spreads in our schools, it will also spread further in our community, endangering the vulnerable.
“When we elected you, we entrusted you with the safety of our students and teachers. Your constituents are watching you closely as you make choices that will literally make the difference between life and death. I know these are heavy decisions falling on your shoulders and I implore you to protect the safety of our students and teachers above all else.”
Giel said King’s reply stunned her.
“I am forwarding this to the district leadership,” King wrote back 20 minutes later. “You will be contacted by the appropriate authorities. This may or may not affect your JD. I’d be careful sending such emails with this kind of verbiage.”
Giel responded, stating, “It seems that what offends you here is the weight of the health and safety decisions the office you decided to run for now must handle. The reality is that they are life and death decisions. I’m respectfully imploring you to consider the safety of students and staff above all else.
“It would be wildly inappropriate for you to interfere in my career because I sent you an email as a constituent. Please consider your actions carefully.”
In a reply a half hour later, King wrote, “It would be helpful for you to do a thorough analysis of what is really happening so that you don’t come off so uninformed. Your teacher friends are able to cancel their contract without penalty. Why don’t you go plead with them. And I’m not the least bit intimidated by your JD.”
JD is an acronym for “juris doctor,” or law degree.
Giel responded: “You are my elected official with whom I am respectfully sharing my opinion about an extremely important and heavy issue facing your board. In response, you are insulting me and threatening me. This is wildly inappropriate behavior.
“I don’t think that giving teachers the option between quitting and endangering their health is a real option, and I’m imploring you to do more to protect teachers. It’s interesting that you frame teachers as my “friends,” which seems to imply that they’re not yours. I hope you are a friend to teachers and do all that you can to protect them during this upcoming school year.”
Giel circulated a copy of the exchange to various people, who took to Twitter denouncing King’s response.
Among those on Twitter who condemned King and supported Giel was Douglas Sylvester, the dean of the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law.
“Mr. King might want to know that I vote in Kyrene. Also, his threats to our students are not only ridiculous but vile. I hope he apologies soon and realizes that Ms. Giel’s JD is much safer than his elected position,” Sylvester wrote.
Asked about his comments, King told AFN, “I’m trying to do what’s right for the school district and she’s working on her JD. My intent was ‘You just deal with worry about your JD. I’ll worry about myself.’ That was the intent.”
Though he insisted he wasn’t threatening her, dozens of Twitter comments didn’t see it that way.
Giel said she had written only to King because she saw his name in an AFN story July 22.
“I was actually planning to send it to the other board members, but he responded so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to,” she said.
The district has made provisions with its three options – in-classroom, flex and the Kyrene Digital Academy – to place teachers in high risk groups in online-only roles.