Sexual emails led Sebring to resign in Des Moines - Omaha.com
Published Friday, June 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm / Updated at 4:30 pm
Sexual emails led Sebring to resign in Des Moines

Click here to read selected emails.

The Des Moines Public Schools staff blacked out some words or names before sending the emails to The World-Herald. We have blacked out other words or sections for taste or because they were emails from Sebring's lover.

* * * * *

UPDATE: Omaha school board members are reacting cautiously to news that the new Omaha superintendent abruptly resigned her Des Moines post over the discovery of sexually explicit emails she sent to a lover.

Freddie Gray, president of the Omaha school board, declined to speculate this morning on whether Nancy Sebring could survive to take the job in Omaha.

“I don't make that decision,” Gray said. “That decision will be made by the full board.”

Gray called it “really unfortunate that it's happened. . . . There's no playbook on it. Just to do the right thing.”

She said when students and staff are affected, the board must “make tough decisions.”

“Our process is in place where we deal with personnel issues,” she said.

Board member Justin Wayne said he doesn't want to overreact to the situation because he doesn't have all the facts yet. At this point, Wayne said, he would not be in favor of terminating Sebring's contract.

The explicit emails, which The World-Herald obtained today, were exchanged over a period running from March into May, describing the love affair between Sebring, who is married, and another man.

Sebring and the man discuss, sometimes in graphic detail, their “wonderful physical connection,” as Sebring described in one email.

In response to a public records request, the Des Moines Public Schools provided The World-Herald with hundreds of pages of emails on various topics relating to Omaha or even simply containing the word “Omaha.”

Among those were about a dozen emails between Sebring and her lover, sent to or from her official district account.

Board member Marian Fey expressed dejection over the revelation. “It's sad,” Fey said. “All the way around. For her. For us.”

Fey said it would be inappropriate to comment on Sebring's viability.

“I'm very sad that what looks to be a very promising opportunity for the Omaha Public Schools is in this situation.”

The Omaha school board has a regular meeting and two committee meetings scheduled for Monday.

Board member Bambi Bartek said the board probably will discuss the matter then.

Board member Nancy Kratky said she never felt she had enough information about Sebring, and that's why she abstained when the board initially voted to offer the job to her.

“I'm sure it will be discussed,” she said of the situation. “You don't want to mess up the process right now that has to take place.”

Chris Proulx, president of the Omaha Education Association, said it's easy to form opinions too soon.

“Right now, I'm still waiting to get some more details and facts about it,” Proulx said.

The fact is that Sebring has an excellent record of education reform and raising student achievement, he said.

Proulx said that at this point, he's more concerned about Sebring's use of Des Moines school district email than about an alleged affair.

He said he hoped the school board would deliberate carefully.

The World-Herald is continuing to analyze the emails. Check back on Omaha.com throughout the day for further details and a look at Sebring's emails.

* * * * *

The discovery of sexually explicit emails led Omaha's new superintendent to resign abruptly from her post in Des Moines last month, The World-Herald has learned.

Nancy Sebring, who is due to become the Omaha Public Schools superintendent July 1, sent the sexually explicit emails from her official Des Moines Public Schools email account to someone outside the district, Des Moines officials said Friday.

The situation raises serious questions about whether Sebring can continue on to become the OPS superintendent.

Freddie Gray, president of the Omaha school board, said late Friday she couldn't speculate on how the board would respond. Gray said she was not aware of the emails until Friday and did not know the content.

“I haven't seen them, so I have no clue what they are, what they're not, and I wouldn't begin to speculate on what the board would want to do at this point,” she said.

Des Moines staff discovered the emails between Sebring and her male lover while responding to a public records request from The World-Herald and brought the emails to the attention of the school board's top two officials.

Within a few minutes after being confronted earlier this month, Sebring offered to resign.

She told the Des Moines Register that although she had broken district rules, “my personal relationship in this case, or any other case, did not interfere with my job performance.”

Sebring, who is married, also noted that her lover was not a district employee.

Sebring did not return calls from The World-Herald seeking comment.

“I never missed work,” she told the Register. “It was a very short period of time. Six weeks out of the six years I've been in the district.”

When the superintendent resigned May 10, both Sebring and the Des Moines school board chairwoman portrayed her abrupt departure as her needing additional time to make the transition to the Omaha job.

But Des Moines officials now say Sebring violated district computer- and Internet-usage policies.

“I am extremely disappointed with this situation,” board Chairwoman Teree Caldwell-Johnson said in a document that The World-Herald obtained. “While Dr. Sebring violated a district policy, more importantly she showed poor judgment and took actions that were both beneath her position and embarrassing to the district.

“It is simply unacceptable that the leader of our public schools would use school district resources in the way that she did.”

When asked whether Sebring was still qualified to serve as Omaha's superintendent, Des Moines board member Dick Murphy said, “That's for the Omaha board to decide.”

But Caldwell-Johnson said she didn't know that the situation changes how she feels about Sebring's professional qualifications.

“That's hers and that's for keeps,” she said.

Members of the Omaha school board voted 11-0 on April 2 to hire Sebring to replace retiring Superintendent John Mackiel.

The board approved a contract with her April 25, establishing a salary and benefits package of more than $325,000 a year.

Sebring was to stay with Des Moines through June 30.

Then, on May 10, the Des Moines school board held a closed meeting, after which word of Sebring's immediate resignation came out.

Sebring wrote to the school board: “Due to the many personal issues which must be addressed prior to July 1, I respectfully request that the board accept my resignation effective immediately.”

Sebring said she wanted more time to prepare her house for sale, get ready for the move to Omaha and plan her daughter's July 15 wedding.

At the time, Caldwell-Johnson thanked Sebring on behalf of the school board for her service to the district and community and wished her well.

“We understand and appreciate her wish to have some additional time as she prepares for her transition to Omaha,” Caldwell-Johnson said in a statement, “and we support her request to make that happen.”

Des Moines officials now say they were working to respond to a World-Herald record request for Sebring's communications when the inappropriate emails came up on a search.

On May 9, district officials notified Caldwell-Johnson, who called Sebring after meeting with district officials and told her “the board was going to have to take action.”

Sebring hesitated before saying, “You know, I'm just going to submit my resignation,” according to Caldwell-Johnson.

Caldwell-Johnson didn't respond directly to whether the school board would have moved to fire Sebring.

“Is it possible this would have risen to termination? That's really for the board to deliberate, and we never had that sort of discussion,” Caldwell-Johnson said.

District officials said they didn't publicly disclose the situation then because it was a matter discussed in a closed session of the board and because the district was completing a review of records.

The emails in question came up in the search, Des Moines officials said, because they contained the word “Omaha.”

Sebring had been superintendent in Des Moines since 2006.

Despite the Des Moines district's increasing poverty rate, test scores improved, achievement gaps narrowed for minority and poor students and the graduation rate increased. However, she faced questions of favoritism and criticism of her leadership style.

With Sebring's hiring in Omaha, many hoped she could bring a fresh set of eyes to OPS and find new ways to address its troubling achievement gaps.

Sebring was the first superintendent hired from outside the district since the early 1980s.

The Omaha school board passed over an internal contender, ReNae Kehrberg, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Sebring, who received a doctorate in education leadership and policy studies from Drake University in Des Moines, displayed poise and confidence in her public interview with the board, impressing the crowd and drawing applause.

The Omaha school board has a regular meeting scheduled for Monday night.

Gray said she did not know whether a discussion of the Sebring matter would be added to the agenda or whether it would be addressed in a closed session.

“It's really becoming a personnel issue,” she said.

OPS has a policy for dealing with employees who send inappropriate emails that provides a range of disciplinary actions including dismissal, she said.

Her contract with OPS allows school board members to cancel it on a majority vote for “just cause.” Just cause includes unprofessional conduct, immorality or conduct that “interferes substantially with the continued performance of duties.”

Asked whether sending explicit emails would be sufficient to reconsider hiring Sebring, Gray declined to say.

“You're asking me to speculate without having all the facts, and I won't do that,” she said.

Contact the writer:
402-444-1128, jeff.robb@owh.com
402-444-1077, joe.dejka@owh.com

Contact the writer: Rick Ruggles

rick.ruggles@owh.com    |   402-444-1123    |  

Rick covers health and medicine. He also occasionally covers cops, breaking news and events around town.

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