Lobdell: Hubbard's cautionary words come back to haunt him

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District has pulled from its schools a video on the dangers of inappropriate texting and Internet posting that featured Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard.

The recall happened quietly in late January, one day after Hubbard's sexually charged e-mails to a former colleague were published in the Orange County Register.

"It would not be appropriate for us to continue to promote and use the original version [of the DVD] under the current circumstances," Laura Boss, the district's spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Prosecutors have used the flirtatious e-mails — filled with double entendres — as Hubbard's motive for allegedly giving his former subordinate at the Beverly Hills school district an unauthorized $20,000 bonus and a 233% boost in her monthly car allowance.

Hubbard, who is divorced, had told the Daily Pilot that he had no relationship with the woman outside work.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in January that there was enough evidence for Hubbard to stand trial on two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds.

His co-defendant, Karen Anne Christiansen, has been charged with misappropriation of public funds, illegally funneling school business to her private company and getting kickbacks from an energy company that was awarded district contracts.

Hubbard, now on paid leave, and Christiansen have pleaded not guilty.

The pulling of the DVD, titled "Good Cyber Sense," which the district had circulated among its school sites, offers a peek at some of the collateral damage the Hubbard case has inflicted on the district.

Teachers are fearful to speak publicly, but several have told me of widespread disgust in their ranks that the school board didn't reprimand Hubbard for his e-mails and later decided to continue his $284,000 annual salary for the length of his criminal case while they've faced layoffs and other cutbacks.

When viewing "Good Cyber Sense," it's tough to still charitably call Hubbard's e-mails a temporary lapse in judgment. Near the video's beginning, the narrator says, "Hubbard is deeply concerned with the choices teen are making in the Internet age."

Hubbard then explains that in the past, many times inappropriate comments — including those that were threatening — carried no consequences because they weren't captured digitally for the world to see.

"And that's the part that again has changed dramatically for us is that kids now are saying and doing things and are held accountable because this information is public," he says.

Later in the video, Hubbard warns that mistakes made in cyberspace "absolutely can have very serious consequences."

"We have a responsibility as parents to warn our kids," Hubbard says. "We have to warn our kids — there's danger here, there's potential trouble here. … in order for us to have a conversation that's meaningful to our kids, we have to know what it is they could potentially get in trouble with."

If Hubbard had listened to the video in which he appeared, those racy e-mails would have never been sent — at least not from his work account.

Here's more advice from the narrator: "Newport-Mesa Unified is committed to educating its 21,000 students by making cyber smarts a priority. The staff teaches kids to be aware of who might be viewing their online site — a teacher, a principal, even a college admissions counselor. Think long and hard, because once it hits cyberspace, it's potentially around forever."

She continues, "Embarrassing images or inappropriate material could be passed on and on causing serious harm to one's reputation ... adults need to help children understand how their actions today will affect their opportunities to succeed in the future."

The video also includes cyber wisdom from Hubbard's director of student services, Becky Bishai.

"I do tell my children, 'Don't put anything on there that you don't want to see in 20 years, that you don't want your mom to see, that you don't want your best friends to see, that you don't want your enemies to see, because it can be used in a negative way later on,'" she said.

Two Newport-Mesa mothers, Tricia Rodewald and Michele Gile-Caston, produced "Good Cyber Sense" to help fellow parents navigate the potential dangers involved in students texting or posting inappropriate comments, videos or photos in or outside of school.

The well-done, 30-minute video — produced at no cost to the district — also featured Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and then-state Supt. Jack O'Connell.

"Good Cyber Sense" was distributed to Newport-Mesa schools in the fall and shown during the district's designated cyber-sense weeks in October and November. Also, some parents checked out the video for home viewing.

After Hubbard's e-mails became public, the video's producers met immediately with Boss.

In her statement, Boss said she and the producers discussed their mutual concerns that the DVD's message could be overshadowed by Hubbard's appearance in it.

"[W]e believed that it was in the best interest of the district that we revise it and not let the importance of the message get lost due to the current issues," she said.

Since Hubbard was charged with two felonies in December, this appears to be the first time that the district took proactive measures during the controversy (the school board didn't place the superintendent on leave until he asked for it on the day a judge ruled that the trial would go forward).

The trio decided to re-shoot Hubbard's segments with Alan Engard, the district's director of information technology.

The newly re-edited version of "Good Cyber Sense" will be available this month. I'd encourage parents to watch it with their tweens and teenagers. It's an eye-opener and, at the least, could save your kid some embarrassment down the road.

I'll finish with the video's unintentionally ironic ending.

The narrator concludes: "Technology can be a wonderful thing provided students use good cyber sense. On campus and off, it's crucial that kids think before they hit send.

"They must practice appropriate behavior on the computer, cell phone and while chatting on the web. Because a mistake today can follow a student well into the future."

WILLIAM LOBDELL — a former editor of the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times journalist — is a Costa Mesa resident who runs a boutique public relations firm. His column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is bill@cat5communications.com.

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