Spam. Irritating. Unprofessional. That’s how some teachers on social media described an unsolicited political email sent en masse Monday morning to school inboxes across the state.
The email encourages teachers to check out gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt’s plan for education, which Stitt made public around the same time.
The email was not from Stitt’s campaign. The sender described herself as a long-time public school teacher and Oklahoma Education Association member. Oklahoma Watch reached out to the person to confirm the message’s authenticity but hadn’t heard back as of late Tuesday afternoon.
Donelle Harder, Stitt’s communications director, said the email didn’t originate with Stitt’s campaign. “I don’t know who (she) is, but if she likes the plan then I appreciate her support,” Harder said.
Stitt has been rolling out parts of his education plan, which includes signing bonuses for new teachers, three-year accreditation for high-performing districts and boosting teacher pay by 2019-20.
The thing that appeared to irk recipients the most was the use of their work-related emails. Teachers are prohibited from using their school emails for political purposes or campaigning. But there doesn’t appear to be a violation when the school email is on the receiving end.
Candidates are forbidden from using public funds, property or time for campaign activities, including state staff, email and property. In this case, the sender used a personal email.
“We don’t have an ethics rule that says they can’t send to school emails,” said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. “Public schools are political subdivisions.”
Plus, school emails are public record and can be found on the state Department of Education’s website.
Recipients of the email complained to OEA because the sender mentioned the union in the email. OEA President Alicia Priest, in a statement Monday, said the sender doesn’t speak for OEA.
She also reminded teachers not to use school emails for campaigning.
“Do not use your school email address for any political purpose, whether it’s contacting your legislators, sending out campaign materials, or just emailing a friend about your preferences,” she said.