WILKES-BARRE — Denise Thomas became the second Wilkes-Barre Area School Board member this week grappling with calls for her resignation thanks to Facebook posts.
Old emails allegedly sent by Thomas during her stint as a part-time attendance officer in the district were posted on the Save Our Schools (SOS) Facebook page and critics pounced, contending they showed a racist streak.
The posting went up Thursday evening, barely three days after the Times Leader first posted a story about fellow board member Ned Evans that sparked a firestorm and multiple calls for his resignation — calls he has defiantly rejected.
Evans made a crude joke while commenting on another person’s Facebook post about a female Arizona teacher allegedly having oral sex with a 13-year-old male student. Evans has never denied posting the comment, but has repeatedly apologized and admitted it was a mistake.
That has not assuaged critics, and Superintendent Brian Costello issued a statement saying he and the other eight board members — including Thomas — were asking Evans to resign.
For Thomas, the trouble started Thursday night when a person identified as Paul Smith posted 12 images of what appear to be seven different emails (some split across two images). They are marked as from Thomas to the GAR Memorial High School staff, all dated 2010 or 2011.
The person who posted them introduced them with the comment: “Although these emails were written a few years ago, they speak volumes to what Denise Thomas clearly thinks of our students. She degraded their ethnicity, socio-economic status and way they speak.”
Some of the emails use language that, those commenting on them argued, mocks stereotypical speech of African-Americans, such as “Wat up ya’ll? I telled ya dat they a party going down,” and “Trust U aint juss goin B sittin down cuz aint no chairs.”
One asked if “poor white boy” had a “little bundle of joy” and if it was “another ‘poor white boy’ or a ‘Shirley Temple of the heights.” Two apparent names are blurred in the image of those emails.
Others appear to make jokes about students, including requesting “eye masks” for instructional support (special education) students “complaining that the lights are interrupting their sleep,” and announcing an annual “used alarm clock drive … for the little angels that have difficulty getting here on time.”
Another seems to compare attending a “first grade band concert” to “an appointment at a Chinese water torture clinic.” One talks of receiving a federal grant for “installation of razor wire fences,” and that the district beat other applicants for the money, including “juvenile detention centers.”
The post evoked several comments, three of which called for her to leave the school board.
Friday afternoon, Thomas admitted “Sometimes I don’t have a filter,” but also said “I don’t recall sending anything of that caliber.” She also said she doubted she could have sent such emails on the district system without being censured.
If the emails posted had been “written by me, I would have been reprimanded,” Thomas said. “They would have taken the computer off me. We’ve banned a lot of employees based on the way they act on email.
“I do stick my foot in my mouth sometimes, but I’m totally baffled as to where all this came from,” she said. “I’m not an angel, I never claimed to be an angel. But if they had these in their possession all these years, why do they come up now, three days after the Ned Evans thing?”
A source said most, and likely all, of the emails posted were authentic.
“Some of these things in these emails, they are not me,” Thomas said. “Sometimes I’ll say a crazy thing, but nothing like this.”
While Evans has squarely blamed members of SOS for circulating his offending post — the group formed to oppose high school consolidation, something both Evans and Thomas support — Thomas didn’t go that far. She did, however, question the timing of the email release.
She noted she resigned from her job in the district as required by law when she was first elected to the board in 2013, which means someone had the emails and could have publicized them anytime during that election or during her successful bid for a second term last year.
“I ran for office twice and it never came up,” she said. “People have been upset about me for at least four years. Where did this come from?”
School Board Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said he could not comment because he had not read the emails. Costello did not reply to a phone message and email Friday afternoon.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish