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Iowa superintendent's sexy emails embroil two school districts

June 03, 2012|By Matt Pearce

School officials, send your sexy emails from home.

Nancy Sebring was a promising superintendent in the Des Moines Public Schools who, like many other superintendents, was hopping to the next job. In her case, she was to lead the Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska.

But after reporters dug up explicit emails that she had sent to a lover from her work account and had tried to cover up, both school districts have been embroiled in controversy.

You might consider this an anatomy of a hiring catastrophe.

“The woman with the tattoo on her foot, hailed as a bold, take-charge outsider who could face down the chronic academic problems plaguing the Omaha Public Schools, proved a weakling against her own passions,” opined the Omaha World-Herald, which had filed the original records request for Sebring’s emails — and was later suckered by the superintendent into revising its request in such a way that the Omaha paper would not have netted any of the incriminating emails, which violated school policies.

School staffers discovered the emails after an Omaha World-Herald reporter filed the records request May 7. After school board officials confronted Sebring on May 9 via conference call, she tried to delete the emails, then called the Omaha reporter and convinced him to change his request, according to the Des Moines Register.

After a special school board meeting on May 10, she resigned, telling the public that she needed more time to prepare for the job she was about to take in Omaha on July 1.

That was the extent of public knowledge -- until now.

The Des Moines Register, following up on the Omaha World-Herald’s public records request, finally obtained the emails late last week and revealed the real reason for Sebring’s early departure from the district, which had not been disclosed by Des Moines school officials.

The Register published that story late Friday night. At 8:45 a.m. Saturday, it interviewed Sebring, who said she had no intention of stepping down from her new job in Omaha.

In one email quoted by the Register, Sebring said she looked “periodically” at a photo of her lover’s penis during the workday, “which gets my heart racing a bit.” Some of the emails came during the workday; some came from an iPad and a laptop issued by the district.

Two hours later, Sebring told Omaha officials that she intended to resign from her upcoming job.

The Omaha school board accepted her resignation with a 9-1 vote, and her tenure in Nebraska was over before it began.

In a resignation letter quoted by the Omaha World-Herald, Sebring said she appreciated “the confidence shown to me by the Omaha board in hiring me as the next superintendent. However, due to recent events I feel my ability to lead the district has been compromised, thus I am offering my resignation as superintendent of the Omaha school district.”

In Omaha, school officials were initially cautious after news of the emails came to light Friday and Saturday. But outrage, Sebring’s resignation and disappointment swiftly followed.

“It's sad,” Omaha school board member Marian Fey told the Omaha World-Herald. “All the way around. For her. For us.”

Back in Des Moines, officials were defending their decision not to tell the public what happened. Des Moines school board President Teree Caldwell-Johnson, who confronted Sebring about the emails, had described her early resignation to reporters by saying, “I don’t know that it’s a rare situation,” according to the Des Moines Register.

The board president's comments didn’t sit well with Graham Gillette, a former school board member who has three children in the district.

“That is disturbing to me because it is an untruth, and it sounds to me like they were trying to throw the media and the public off the scent,” Gillette told the Register.

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