An Anchorage elementary school issued an apology Tuesday after an automated phone message the night before urged parents to attend a city Assembly meeting and voice opposition to marijuana retail stores on the agenda.
That Monday evening message from Campbell Elementary School should never have gone out, due to its "partisan" nature, said Anchorage School District spokesperson Heidi Embley.
The message was sent out to 464 phone numbers, according to Embley. It was sent out at the direction of Campbell elementary Principal Michelle Johansen, by a member of the staff, according to Embley. When pressed about the staff member's position, Embley replied in an email that Johansen was taking responsibility for the message.
"This was not something that should have happened or will happen again in the future," Embley said.
In the message, a female voice tells parents that a marijuana retail store "quietly passed without public input" at the last Anchorage Assembly meeting, and urges parents to attend Tuesday's meeting to oppose another store looking to open up in the area.
"It hits too close to home, it hits too close to our school. Please, we are asking for as many families as possible to make an appearance at the municipal Assembly meeting tomorrow night to show who this will be having an impact on: our children," the message says.
The message should have been approved by Johansen, Embley said. She "had discussed it with the staff member but did not see the actual script," according to Embley.
The notification system is routinely used for informational and emergency phone calls, emails or texts, Embley wrote in an email.
"It should have been a strictly informational message to notify parents of something that may have been of interest to them," Embley said.
At 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, another call went out to parents.
"Campbell parents, this is principal Michelle Johansen," the second message said. "Yesterday you received a message to inform you about an activity in our school community which will be addressed at tonight's assembly meeting. Unfortunately, words were used which implied partisanship. This is not the intent or policy of the district or our school, and I apologize for the message portrayed in the call."
Two marijuana retail stores – Alaskabuds LLC and Enlighten Alaska LLC – were approved by the Assembly on Tuesday night. One cultivation facility, Raspberry Roots, also won approval. It did not appear that any parents showed up Tuesday night to testify about the Raspberry Roots license.
Neither Alaskabuds, on E. Fifth Avenue, or Enlighten Alaska, on Spenard Road, are within the Taku Campbell community council district. Raspberry Roots is located on Raspberry Road, but the retail portion of the business was not up for Assembly approval Tuesday, only the grow operation.
Raspberry Roots owner Kim Kole said she had just finished lodging a complaint about the message with the Anchorage School District when reached Tuesday morning.
The original message said marijuana businesses "… only need to inform those people within a 500 foot radius from their business," but that requirement is just one of several that must be met.
In Anchorage, businesses must discuss their plans at a community council meeting before being approved by the Anchorage Assembly.
"I started attending community council meetings last spring and haven't missed one since," Kole said.
Under state law, potential marijuana businesses must also issue public notices after they have started a license application. Those notices are published in a newspaper "once a week for three consecutive weeks," at the business itself, and in one other "conspicuous location," according to regulations.
"This was not a secret, this was not quiet," she said.
On Tuesday, principals at all schools were reminded of "appropriate communication as district employees, particularly regarding political activity," Embley said. The elementary school supervisor was looking at the incident "with a high degree of seriousness," Embley wrote.
Embley said they had also received numerous calls from parents on the issue. She declined to say whether disciplinary action would be taken against the staff member.