By Marc Freeman, Sun Sentinel
December 1, 2009
A veteran Palm Beach County teacher is in trouble for sending e-mails at work criticizing Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign.
Paula Prudente, an educator in county schools since 1978, faces a 10-day suspension without pay on a charge of gross insubordination. The School Board votes Wednesday on the punishment, which would begin Jan. 4.
Administrators accuse Prudente, a reading teacher at John I. Leonard High in Greenacres and a union representative, of repeatedly using her school district computer last year "to send unwelcome e-mails of an inappropriate political nature to her co-workers."
From Aug. 13 to Nov. 12, 2008, Prudente sent 18 e-mails with "political innuendos" according to files retrieved by district investigators. Those e-mails included content created and sent by others to Prudente, such as political cartoons and negative articles about then-candidate Obama.
Principal Terry Costa told an Employee Relations investigator that Prudente had been repeatedly warned to stop the e-mails. Assistant Principal Patricia Konttinen stated that teachers had complained about receiving them.
Prudente, 54, previously received a verbal reprimand on Jan. 8, 2008, for improper use of e-mail during the school day. She also received a written reprimand for the same violation on Election Day, Nov. 4, 2008, according to case documents released Tuesday.
The investigation determined that Prudente violated School Board policies forbidding political activity by employees on duty and improper use of technology.
In statements to the investigator, Prudente said she "did not intend any malice" by sending the e-mails.
"Mrs. Prudente stated that she liked the Republican Party and stated that the e-mails were sent to her and she forwards them out to other teachers because she thought they were funny," wrote investigator Ezra Dilbert.
In an interview and in a sworn statement, Prudente complained about a hostile work environment and suggested school administrators were being vindictive because of her union position and requests for work accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Prudente could not be reached for comment Tuesday despite a call to her home and an e-mail sent to her school account.
The School Board on Wednesday is scheduled to take action on two other disciplinary cases.
Superintendent Art Johnson recommends firing Jill Shadoff, 60, a special education teacher with the district since 1992.
On March 5, Shadoff was arrested by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and charged with drug trafficking. On August 28, Shadoff pleaded guilty to one count of attempted trafficking in Oxycodone, a second-degree felony. Adjudication was withheld and Shadoff agreed to three years on probation and 100 hours of community service.
Shadoff told investigators that she was mailing pills for her husband, who had a prescription and needed the medication for a trip to Massachusetts, according to case documents.
Board members also will vote on a recommendation to fire maintenance worker Hurney Mincey, 31. On Sept. 14, school police found a loaded firearm stored in Mincey's parked car on the campus of West Technical Academy in Belle Glade.
Marc Freeman can be reached at mjfreeman@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6642.
Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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