Will we ever know who’s responsible for the leak?

Will we ever know who’s responsible for the leak?

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

Find the leak.

That seemed to be the single concern connecting those for and against the Fluvanna County High School Alliance Club’s request to rainbow-ize the Fluco logo.

Everyone wanted to know how blogger and radio host Rob Schilling got hold of the Alliance Club letter that Superintendent Chuck Winkler presented to the School Board in an Oct. 10 closed session.

Bearing Drift, which bills itself as “Virginia’s conservative voice” ran a Schilling blog post Nov. 2 entitled “The culture wars come to Fluvanna.”

In the article, Schilling posted a picture of a color copy of the letter to the board. The name and email address of the student making the request were blurred, but not the name of a supporting teacher.

How did Schilling know about the Alliance Club request before it was even on the Nov. 7 School Board agenda?

Lots of people

Four people who were among the first to know of the club’s formal request to the administration – Winkler and three School Board members, Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union), Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) and Andrew Pullen (Columbia) – have all said, “I hear a lot of people had that letter.”

That is to say, you can’t pin the leak on just the School Board or administration.

All four stated unequivocally they did not share the letter with anyone outside of the Oct. 10 closed meeting.

Board member Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) said she did not leak the letter.

Board member Brenda Pace (Palmyra) did not return messages left on her voicemail. However, Winkler said Pace has said she did not share the letter with anyone outside of the closed meeting.

In a telephone interview, Pullen said he knows everyone thinks he’s the one who passed on the intel to Schilling, but he did not.

Three days after Schilling posted his column – and before the public airing of the issue at the Nov. 7 School Board meeting – Pullen was on Schilling’s radio show talking about the Alliance Club request.

To illustrate his claim that many people had access to the letter, Pullen said a woman asked him about it before the Oct. 10 meeting.

“She supported it and asked if I’d received it,” Pullen said.

Pullen did not respond to a text asking him to contact the woman and ask if she’d speak to a reporter.

Pullen said he’s suffered harassment because of the issue.

“People call me Jason Kessler,” the right wing activist involved in the 2017 Charlottesville protest in which Heather Heyer was killed. “I honestly have been upset enough to consider resigning from the board,” Pullen said. “I couldn’t go with my daughter on a field trip because of people calling me Jason Kessler.”

When contacted Wednesday (Dec. 5), Schilling said he never comments to other members of the media about a column he’s written.

He did not find out about the logo issue via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request because he never sent one, said Brenda Gilliam, director of finance and instruction, who handles all FOIA requests.

Students and staff

In a series of interviews with staff and students involved, it doesn’t appear “lots of people” had access to the letter.

Yes, the letter was created on a school computer in a Google Docs platform.

But that doesn’t mean “anyone” could get to it.

Every student has an email address. Each student has a password to get into the school computer system. Teachers have access to that password.

But to create a letter in Google Docs, a student must use his or her personal email password.

Teachers do not have access to that password.

The only way a teacher or parent could see or print that document (stored in the cloud) is if the student who created it gives the teacher or parent access.

The school has not reported problems with hacking.

On Thursday (Dec. 6) Winkler said neither he nor the School Board asked IT to check and see who accessed the letter writer’s Google document.

Chris Ramos, a staff sponsor of the Alliance Club, said he was given permission by the student in September to read it and print out a copy.

“I printed one copy,” Ramos said.

That copy was put into an inter-office mailing envelope addressed to Principal Margo Bruce and given to a secretary in the main office.

Bruce said she did not share the letter with anyone but Winkler.

The Alliance Club has several co-presidents and a number of them agreed to interviews.

Yes, many of them told their parents about the proposed logo change. But the students said they did not print the letter nor send it as an attachment.

Ramos said students don’t have access to a color printer. They have to get permission from a teacher to use one or ask a teacher to print a color copy.

Many teachers and parents may have known about the proposed logo change, but there’s no evidence that anyone other than the letter writer, Ramos, Bruce and Winkler saw the copy Ramos printed out. All four said they did not send an electronic copy or print a copy and share it. The only others who had a color-copy of the request are the five School Board members.

Winkler said he printed a color copy of the letter and put it in a folder for each board member at the Oct. 10 closed meeting.

The students involved said,

  • “We never intended it to get bigger than the school and the School Board.”
  • “It’s very important we find out” how Schilling got the letter or the picture of the letter.
  • “It should not have happened.”
  • “It’s important to find out how it happened to prevent it from happening again.”
  • “I don’t know what we can do to prevent it from happening, but I do think they’ll take some steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Winkler said the School Board is doing its own investigation. If that investigation finds it was one of their own, the only recourse they have is to sanction the member, said Johnson.

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