School board member apologizes for texts, district says it mistakenly gave him parent contact info

Fayette school board member Will Nash, running in the November general election to keep his appointed seat, apologized Thursday for sending out individual, campaign-related text messages using parent contact information.

“As a school board candidate, I’m very sorry this situation occurred, and I want to apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced by my actions,” he told the Herald-Leader in a statement.

But on another front , Nash said that “multiple lies” are “floating around” that he used district money on a non-campaign survey mailed to constituents.

He said that’s “blatantly false.”

Nash said in late August, in his capacity as a private citizen, he submitted an open records request to Fayette County Schools asking for the names, addresses and phone numbers of parents whose children go to school in district one and received the information.

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Fayette County School Board Member Will Nash. Mark Cornelison | UKphoto

After he received complaints about sending out individual, campaign-related text messages this week, he said district officials told him that they improperly shared parent contact information with him and they did not follow internal policies in responding to his request.

“I acted in good faith that I received the data appropriately. Now that I know it was an error, I have destroyed the data,” Nash said.

“As a school board member, I’m deeply concerned this error happened and will follow-up with the Superintendent to ensure we have the policies in place to protect all data and adhere to all open records procedures,” he said.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said other than for their own children, no school board members have access to Infinite Campus, which is where student contact information, as well as other data such as attendance, academic performance, and behavior, are stored.

She said, however, that an external agency providing legal guidance told district officials that they did not have any legal standing to withhold the information from Nash after he made the open records request.

Those fulfilling the request did not realize the district had a more stringent Fayette County administrative procedure that would have overridden the requirement to release the information under the state Open Records Act.

The Office of the General Counsel should have directed Nash to make the request to the superintendent and specify the intended use of the requested information, she said.

Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk was not aware of the request, and would not have released the information had he been asked.

Although it was not stated in Nash’s request, based on conversations with the Office of the General Counsel about sending a board member newsletter to families, those involved mistakenly thought that was why he had requested the information.

“We will review all open records processes in order to balance transparency with the confidentiality of our families, Deffendall said. “We anticipate providing additional training for employees and bringing a recommendation to our school board to adopt even more restrictive ... policies to ensure the privacy of our students and families.”

About the mailer, Deffendall said, “We are aware that a postcard mailing from Mr. Nash was received by members of our community. The postcard was not printed by the district, the postage was not paid by the district, and the district had no advance knowledge of the mailing.”

In a Thursday Facebook post, Nash said, “yesterday thousands of my constituents received an important mailed survey from me about school safety, property taxes, teacher pay increases and other topics that come before the board of education.

“I personally paid for all aspects of this mailer and survey—design, printing and mailing, and have the receipts to prove it,” he said. “In fact, the school district does not maintain any budget for board members to communicate with their constituents.”

“Not a single tax payer dime was spent on this effort. Despite that, there are multiple lies floating around that I used district money to create and send the survey. This is blatantly false,” Nash said.

Nash did not speak to the source of the “lies,” but he was criticized for the mailer on social media.

Nash told the Herald-Leader in a text that no Fayette district employee ever handled the mailer and no Fayette district employee time was ever spent on the mailer. He said he used the district’s U.S. Postal Service non-profit rate code because he sent it in his official capacity as a school board member.

He also said on Facebook that he spent $4,000 of his own money on the survey mailer.

He said he consulted with the board’s attorney and followed his advice before sending the survey to constituents.

“I paid out of pocket for the full cost of the mailer,” Nash told the Herald-Leader.

Nash said in his social media post that every school district dollar should be used to impact student learning and that’s been his focus as a board member.

Since he was appointed to fill the open first district seat in November, Nash has pushed for more fiscal accountability and transparency for Fayette County Public Schools.

Nash, who runs a division of a non-profit providing educator professional development, was appointed to the school board in November 2018.

The term he filled for the first district seat expires at the end of 2019. His opponent in the November 5 general election is Christy Morris. The mother of two is a school volunteer and co-founder of a non-profit that provides food for low-income students.

In a Facebook post Friday, Morris said her family’s contact data was among that obtained by Nash.

Morris said Nash “used a position of public trust to obtain this confidential contact information of our FCPS children and families.”

“More disturbing, this information was then used for personal and political gain weeks before a high stakes election by a trained board member who knew or should have known this was unethical and wrong,” Morris said. “My campaign and my family are calling for a full investigation into this matter.”

Morris said she is calling for independent, written verification that the released information has been destroyed, is no longer retrievable, and was not handed over to any third parties or, if so, that it has been deleted and not compromised.

“That is the minimum standard to which we should hold our public officials,” Morris said.

The first district includes several south Lexington schools.

Nash said in his post that he would continue to communicate with his constituents in a “robust” way “despite the blatant lies because it’s the right thing to do.”

“The challenge with being in public office or running for public office is that people can say anything they want about you without evidence and some people will take it as fact,” he said.