Beitman on Thursday said he could not comment on the July 18, 2007, e-mail, which was written before he became superintendent, and would not say if Niehoff would be reprimanded again. A call to Niehoff's home was not immediately returned Thursday.
BY KARI BANACH
Thursday, June 19, 2008 10:48 PM EDT
BURLINGTON -- A Region 10 school administrator reprimanded last week for releasing private information about a student via e-mail may have done the same thing before.
Lewis S. Mills High School Principal Karissa Niehoff was suspended without pay for two days because of a May 31 incident in which she replied to an e-mail from a man who criticized the school's punishment of student Avery Doninger.
In her response, Niehoff detailed disciplinary problems she had with Doninger. The response was found to be a violation of the girl's privacy rights.
Doninger was barred from running for class office last year after she called administrators "douchebags" on her online blog. Doninger and her mother are suing Niehoff and former Superintendent Paula Schwartz in federal court, alleging free speech violations.
Now a new e-mail -- one of about 40 released late Wednesday in response to a request from Avery's mother, Lauren -- shows that Niehoff had made similar remarks to another educator in July 2007.
In an e-mail to a man named Bryan Jones, Niehoff wrote: "The story that has been shared in the media by Avery's attorney, and by her mother, is not accurate, nor does it address the multitude of incidences for which Avery was warned before the posting of (her) blog. ... This was not a first-time offense; Avery had not received any consequences prior to this incident. ... Avery had been spoken to by teachers and administrators on many previous occasions about this specific type of behavior."
The e-mail, posted on the blog of Litchfield writer and activist Andy Thibault and confirmed by Lauren Doninger, is remarkably similar to the one that spurred last week's suspension.
In the May 31 e-mail, Niehoff stated: "Prior to this incident, Avery had repeatedly been warned by her class adviser to stop calling the student council adviser and members names during junior class meetings. Thus, this was not the first incident of its kind with Avery."
The current superintendent, Alan Beitman, said the May 31 incident was a violation of privacy law. He asked Niehoff to apologize to the family and undergo privacy rights training, and he ordered the suspension. He called the May 31 incident an "uncharacteristic lapse in judgment."
Beitman on Thursday said he could not comment on the July 18, 2007, e-mail, which was written before he became superintendent, and would not say if Niehoff would be reprimanded again.
A call to Niehoff's home was not immediately returned Thursday.
Lauren Doninger said she has not decided whether to ask Beitman to take new disciplinary action.
"It's the same sort of thing as the Morris e-mail. It's a FERPA violation," Doninger said, referring to the Family Educational Rights &Privacy Act.
"What Avery did was rude and unrefined, but it didn't break a law or the code of conduct of a profession," she said.
Doninger said her Freedom of Information request will likely result in further documents being released in the coming days. She said she will wait until she thoroughly reviews the material before deciding her next step.
Avery Doninger, who graduates from Mills today, lost a request for an injunction in U.S. District Court in New Haven to allow her to reclaim the class secretary's post in time for graduation, where she would have been able to address her classmates as a class officer. She also lost an appeal to the U.S. 2nd District Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
Still, Lauren Doninger said last week the family will continue its efforts with a trial. Lauren also said she hopes her daughter's case does not become a focus of today's graduation.
"I think it would be unfortunate. I hope it doesn't happen," she said. "This incident doesn't define this class."
Gary Gentile contributed to this report.