A school board candidate has been removed from the board of Fairfax County Council of PTAs due to alleged improper use of her position to further her campaign.
At-large school board candidate Sheree Brown-Kaplan was removed from the Fairfax County Council of PTAs executive board last month, after recipients of an email reportedly complained, the president confirmed Thursday morning.
The council’s president, Ramona Morrow, said in an email Brown-Kaplan sent a letter soliciting support for her campaign to emails she obtained either through her position as the special education chair or through the “specialedfairfax” Yahoo! Group listserv, of which she is the moderator.
Brown-Kaplan, who said she has been involved with the special education committee since about 2005, maintained that she did nothing wrong.
“I wrote people I had contact with over the years and the FCCPTA does not ‘own’ every contact I made,” said Brown-Kaplan in an email.
Morrow said Virginia PTA and the council’s bylaws prevent the organization or any members acting in their official capacity from participating in a political campaign, “including the publishing or distributing of statements.”
The bylaws would apply to those members acting in favor or against a candidate for any political office. The regulations also apply to residents who hold offices in local school PTA chapters.
Morrow also said IRS 501(3)c rules forbid non-profit organizations such as theirs from involving themselves in political campaigns.
“A fine or loss of our 501(3)c status would be devastating to our organization,” she said.
After the council received five written complaints about Brown-Kaplan’s actions, the FCCPTA Board held an emergency meeting on June 30th to vote on a motion to remove her from the board.
Morrow said the board asked Brown-Kaplan if she wanted to resign, but she said no. She was allowed to make a statement in her defense.
"We didn't do this very lightly. Believe me, I do not think Sheree thought she was doing anything wrong," said Morrow in an interview.
Brown-Kaplan said the email was sent from a personal email account, not her special education committee email. She argued she was not acting in her “official capacity” as special education chair.
“A lot of people come to me for advice. If you come to me for advice would I be giving you FCCPTA advice?” Brown-Kaplan asked. “If that advice turned out to be wrong who would be responsible?”
The email Brown-Kaplan sent, which was dated June 7, 2011, Morrow said had the following line:
"You’ve known me a long time through our work together on special education issues in my role as chair of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA) Special Education Committee."
Morrow said members of the FCCPTA, Virginia PTA, and National PTA felt the sentence whether intentionally or not showed Brown-Kaplan was using her role as special education chair to promote her campaign.
Morrow said during their discussion some argued that the initial complaints “could be politically motivated.”
Brown-Kaplan said she doesn’t doubt that the complaints and her subsequent removal were about politics.
“Isn’t this interesting that it’s coming out less than a week before the endorsement process?” she asked. “It’s just too much of a coincidence.”
But Virginia PTA president Debi Abadie said PTAs have to tread carefully when their members become involved in local politics.
“We are non-partisan. We have to consider all points of view,” said Abadie.
Abadie said she couldn’t recall another candidate who was removed from a local PTA board for getting involved in a political campaign.
She said PTA board members who run for political office “will generally will run their campaign but remove themselves from the office.”
Abadie said the Virginia PTA will vote tonight on a memorandum that provides guidelines for local PTAs on what members can and cannot do in regards to political campaigns.
The Fairfax County Republican Committee is scheduled to vote on whether they will endorse her candidacy on July 20th.
“In the end, the action the FCCPTA took is really not relevant to this campaign,” said Brown-Kaplan. “These tactics aren’t going to work. Parents don’t want political tricks or dirty politics. They want a quality education for their kids.”