Omaha Superintendent Apologizes to Parent After Confrontation

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Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Mark Evans recently apologized to a parent who claimed the superintendent confronted him after he spoke out against his school’s principal.

Evans discussed the confrontation with Alex Gates, president of the parent-teacher association at Edison Elementary, at a school board meeting earlier this week, saying he did not mean to restrict any right to freedom of speech.

Gates attended a school board meeting on October 6th to request the creation of a “documented process” that would allow parents, teachers, and staff to submit a formal request to discover and remove “ineffective” principals. Gates stated that numerous parents and staff had complained about the Edison principal, writes Erin Duffy for The Omaha Metro.  He went on to say that he had exchanged numerous emails with Evans on the removal of the unnamed principal, but saw no results.

A warning letter was then sent to Evans by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, accusing him of approaching Gates on October 7th and advising him to find a lawyer, following with a threat of legal action for defamation or slander.  The letter also asserted Gates’ right to free speech.

“He has a protected First Amendment right to express himself, particularly when criticizing a public figure and governmental official such as yourself or a school principal,” ACLU legal director Amy Miller wrote.

Evans was not available for comment, and the emails could not be immediately found.  However, Todd Andrews, a district spokesman, said that the district was aware of the letter, and that “we do not believe it appropriate to comment on it at this time.”

Gates declined to comment, only saying that he was disappointed in in the actions taken by the superintendent, reports Dave Roberts for KETV.

“Honestly, I thought I would get an email from somebody who is involved at the school, spends a lot of time at the school, and they would say, ‘Hey, Alex, thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. We’re going to look into this and do what we can to make the environment at that school better,’” Gates said.

Gates made another appearance at a recent board meeting to ask once again for the creation of a process to find and remove principals, while ensuring that parents and staff have the freedom to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal.

According to Gates, three board members witnessed his conversation with Evans on October 7th.  During the recent board meeting, Gates asked them if they had sanctioned the actions taken by Evans.

“I’m going to ask you as a board to make a decision if that’s the type of behavior we expect from the leader of the schools,” Gates said.

A similar warning letter was sent to the city of Creighton, Nebraska by the ACLU.  The letter was issued after city officials asked a citizen to stop writing letters critical of their actions to the editor of the local newspaper.