Farmington Superintendent Admonishes School Board Member's Wife

Sue Zurvalec has asked Sue Burstein-Kahn to issue a written apology for using an expletive when addressing a teacher during the July 23 board meeting.

Farmington superintendent Sue Zurvalec issued a letter last week admonishing board critic Sue Burstein-Kahn. Photo credit: Patch file photo
Farmington superintendent Sue Zurvalec issued a letter last week admonishing board critic Sue Burstein-Kahn. Photo credit: Patch file photo
Tensions over an Aug. 6 Farmington Public Schools bond election that erupted at a July 23 school board meeting has prompted a warning to a vocal school board critic. 

After the incident between Sue Burstein-Kahn, wife of board member Murray Kahn, and district teacher Tera Shamey, Superintendent Susan Zurvalec sent a letter admonishing Burstein-Kahn. Patch obtained a copy of the letter and other correspondence, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. 

In the letter, Zurvalec charged that during the July 23 meeting, Burstein-Kahn pointed at Shamey and said, "You're a bitch." Zurvalec issued three instructions: no further use of "demeaning and abusive language" at board meetings, a written apology to Shamey and no contact with district employees, except through Zurvalec's office. 

Failure to comply, Zurvalec wrote, "may result in removal from future Board of Education meetings or Farmington Public Schools' property". 

Citizens United responds

While Burstein-Kahn declined to comment for this article, Farmington Citizens United, an organization founded by Farmington Hills parent Kerry Jackson, issued a lengthy statement July 29 that said Shamey "called citizens of the school district 'racists'." 

In her comments during the meeting, which can be viewed online, Shamey said that criticism over the $222 million bond issue goes back to the selling of Eagle Elementary and past controversial decisions.

Shamey said criticism by the same core group "all stems back to this, what I believe, is a racist idea, that you shouldn't have made some of the decisions that you made over the past decade." 

In the release, Jackson wrote, "I am saddened that an employee of the district would use this type of divisive and degrading language. She debased the dignity of a public school system, which should exemplify the civic values of open engagement, robust debate, and thoughtful criticism with calling out engaged parents as 'racists'."

He said Farmington Citizens United "is made up people from all walks of life including racial and religious minorities.”

In email correspondence between Zurvalec and Murray Kahn, also obtained under the FOIA request, Zurvalec wrote that after conferring with legal counsel, she determined Shamey did not violate board policies regarding public comment.

"... it would be inappropriate for anyone in a position of authority (ie Board member or administrator) to discipline, admonish or reprimand her for her comments," Zurvalec wrote. 
Kayla West August 04, 2013 at 09:37 PM
"Ms. West, I wonder how did the patch get the hint to ask for the letter since it was (supposedly) privately addressed to Burstein-Kahn? As I said, curiouser & curiouser." I don't know Mr. Ginsberg and I'm not going to entertain conspiracy theories. The fact is she didn't release the letter to The Patch or anyone else and I deal in the world of facts, not fiction. And here we have a perfect example of what some of these people tend to do. Rather than debate the merits of an issue with the facts, crazy theories and stories are thrown out in public as fact. "Zurvalec shared this letter with the media." Oh wait, it was a FOIA request that made it public. "Who do you think tipped off The Patch???" Enough is enough. Some have raised very legit reasons for voting yes or no on the bond. Others with their emotions and conspiracy theories are just a distraction. The Eagle sale is done. The bond isn't about race. That teacher shouldn't have mentioned race and the people on this board with hurt feelings need to get over it.
Gene Greenstein August 05, 2013 at 12:22 AM
Mr. Ritenour, you should know that you have to have proof not innuendo, especially if you happen to be a lawyer. The blog you reference contains many people I don't know and only the people in that blog are responsible for what they say. I suggest you look in the mirror prior to hitting the post button. Name calling seems to be appropriate for those who choose not to deal with facts. If you don't like my facts prove them wrong in a civilized manner. Our founding Fathers encouraged vigorous debate and put in place a system of checks and balances to insure all voices are heard and power is not abused.
Irving Ginsberg August 05, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Ms. West, Asking questions is not “conspiracy theory.” The difference between you and me is that I ask a question when something does not appear right. Here are just a few other questions that you may label “conspiracy theory.” What prompted someone to tip off the Patch to an “alleged name-calling" letter? Could it possibly be to divert attention from the facts about the Bond issue? When I FOIAed documents related to a no-cost lease of school property, I was told there would be charges for copying (fair enough) AND for its attorney’s time to review my request and the document. Was the Patch charged for the District’s attorney to review its request? Did the Superintendent hear the remark herself, which I did not hear in the video? The Superintendent’s contract was renewed well before expiration. What were the criteria used in considering her renewal? Under her governance, the District has experienced steadily decreasing student performance. Was that a criterion and what was the Board’s evaluation of that? What is being done about falling student performance? After admitting some time ago that trimesters was a failure, why has nothing been done about that? Why did the District allow a friend of Trustee Wallach to build an encroachment on School property and then deliver a no-cost least? You bring up Eagle. Why did the District enter into secret negotiations for the sale of that property? Why, prior to the sale, did certain members of the Board accept campaign contributions from principals of the buying organization? After about a year, that organization is marketing Eagle for almost a million more than it paid. That money could have been used to retain staff that the District is preparing to lay off. Answers to those question and many more should be provided to concerned citizens rather than brushing them off as “conspiracy” theorists. These questions may not be important to you, but they are to many.
Sharon August 05, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Ms. West, This was a private correspondence to Mrs. Kahn. The school board should have been cc'd on this correspondence given the situation and the fact that Mrs. Zurvalec does answer to the Board of Education. Other than the superintendent or the BOE no one else should have been privy to this communication UNTIL it was officially entered into the minutes of the BOE at their next session on August 20th. So there are your two sources neither of which should have released this information to the press. I have personally FOIA'd many items from FPS and they NEVER respond that quickly and it was not because they had to gather the data. FPS should not have this time either without first taking the time to consult with legal counsel = $. Ms. Hubred-Golden is not obligated to reveal her source but I wish she would weigh in and clarify how she heard the letter existed or if she is choosing not to reveal her source. This letter was released for only one reason. Intimidation! Legally the demands are groundless. Mrs. Kahn was neither intoxicated or violent, that is a breach of peace and only for that particular meeting. There is legal precedent. I may not agree with Mrs. Kahn's choice of words but I can understand her frustration. She can not be banned from public meetings if she doesn't sit down at the demand of the superintendent and apologize, she is not a child. I previously was the recipient of a tirade of "f-bombs" by an administrator in the board lobby in front of community, staff and board members because I dared politely question their treatment of a well respected teacher during a board meeting. I took the "conversation" out to the parking lot because I do not conduct myself in that manner in a school building as his tirade continued while board and staff meekly slid out the back door. All I got was a phone call the next morning with a half hearted "I shouldn't have done that.." . No written apology and no reprimand for his actions. This is the status quo around there. It is shameful. This issue is solely about money and lots of it that this community doesn't have and that FPS desperately wants but does not need in such a large quantity. FPS staff have skillfully tried to make this financial issue about race religion and rudeness. If the merits of this bond can't be convincingly presented just pull out the race card. Enough already. Agree to disagree and set a better example for the students. I have watched BOE members continually treat Dr. Kahn with such disrespect on camera over and over and he still treats each of them respectfully in response. I personally would be unable to do the same.
Joni Hubred-Golden (Editor) August 05, 2013 at 12:19 PM
Sharon, virtually all correspondence that public officials send and receive is public information. There are some legally protected exceptions, but this not one of them. If you'd like to know more, check out the Freedom of Information Act guide that is posted at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ag/FOIA_Pamphlet_380084_7.pdf. I spoke with several people who knew about the letter before filing my FOIA request.
Irving Ginsberg August 05, 2013 at 02:50 PM
Ms. Hubred-Golden, If you know, would you share with us whether the person/persons who put you on to the letter were District employees or their relatives? No names needed.
Sharon August 05, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Here is the answer to who will benefit most from this 32 year $222 million dollar bond. Just take a look at the list of donors in the July 30th Advocates for Excellence in Education “Itemized Contributions Ballot Question Committee Report” to see who is funding this “YES” campaign and judge for yourself! It’s not the kids. http://courts.oakgov.com/CFRS/IndexedDocs/829840.pdf
Sharon August 05, 2013 at 06:34 PM
Joni, I am very aware of what can be FOIA'd but thanks for the reference any way. It was never my question "if" the letter could be FOIA'd the question is who was privy to private information and disclosed it publically to you before it was made public at a board meeting. I left one person off of the list. Dr. Shamey probably got a copy too. A vague FOIA request leads to further clarity which each take traditionally 5 days. From my personal experience, the BOE secretary has always been above reproach. That leaves a very short list of people more than one of which has chosen to disclose information directly to you. I take privacy very seriously. Remember the EDP debacle in which I personally discovered all of the private personal information of any/every student that had filled out FPS's own version of the ECDP was available to ANYONE online by just pressing enter. They still don't take privacy seriously enough for me, and they are going to put a tablet/computer in the hand of every student. Wait till the first "selfie" pops up. The same person is still in charge. Glad my kids are done. I didn't ask you for your source that is your right to keep private. I just wish you had considered the ulterior motive before publishing it.
Joni Hubred-Golden (Editor) August 05, 2013 at 06:55 PM
No one who disclosed the information to me was a district employee, and I do not believe anyone who spoke to me had an ulterior motive. At least one person to whom I spoke was outraged at Superintendent Zurvalec's actions.
Barry August 06, 2013 at 06:23 AM
Mr. Ginsberg, You don't really believe that a person is defined by their beliefs and ideas, do you? See, I don't agree. The problem with that "belief" is that it is very narrow. I believe that there are many things that define a person. Beliefs and ideas are certainly a couple of them. How about actions? How about change? How about desires/dreams? There is so much more to a person than just their beliefs. I believe that it is completely possible for someone to have a racist idea, yet not be a racist. That is truly the essence of being a person. I think that Dr. Shamey explained her self correctly. First, she took responsibility for her statement by saying, "I believe". Oh, taking responsibility, that would be another thing that defines a person, wouldn't it? Then, she stated that the idea was racist. She did not call any person a racist. She stated what she believes. The problem comes with your interpretation. By the way, that is another thing that defines a person, the ability to derive meaning and feeling from words. As you can probably guess, I have no problem with what she said. I wouldn't have said it, but I have no problem with her saying it. She did not call anyone a name. Further, I agree with the way that it was handled. If you had stepped up and spoken and said the same thing, then nothing would happen to you. So, why should anything happen to her. Many of the school district employees live in this community and have the right to speak just like anyone else during the public comment portion of a school board meeting. I hope that you are not proposing that employees who are community members should be disciplined for speaking their minds, are you?
Irving Ginsberg August 06, 2013 at 10:28 AM
Barry, I did not say that a person is TOTALLY defined by their beliefs. But I do believe that people are primarily defined by their beliefs and ideas – their essence. A person who acts contrary to their beliefs (and ideas) is a hypocrite (look up the definition). Consequently one can be both a hypocrite AND a racist. I also think that Tera Shamey explained herself very well. She believes that those who oppose the Bond issue are driven by racist beliefs, ergo racists; and said that without a shred of evidence about that group. Maybe someone in that group harbors racists beliefs (a racist), but where is the proof that the whole group is racist, I don’t want someone who thinks like that teaching my children, and I am probably not alone. By the way, exactly to what “race” is Tera Shamey referring – whites, blacks, Serbs, Jews, Japanese, etc.,? Absolutely, Tera Shamey has the right to express her opinions/beliefs no matter how irrational they may be. Likewise, so does Bursein-Kahn, or do you disagree? Furthermore, twice carefully listening to the video, I did not hear the name calling attributed to Burstein-Kahn. If she said that it wasn’t where the public could hear. Again, because Tera Shamey identified herself as an employee of the District, why did not the Superintendent and most of the Board distance themselves from that comment by saying they don’t believe that way? Do they agree? So far the Superintendent has not answered my written question asking her that
Barry August 06, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Mr. Ginsburg- Which book should I look up the definition of hypocrite? Is their a particular book you recommend? It amazes me how you and others that believe what you believe think that the rest of us need an education. I BELIEVE the contrary, but as one of your well educated friends posted on another article, we will have to disagree to disagree. So, what you want is that, after any person speaks at a public meeting, for each board member to express how they feel about what was just said. Is that what I am hearing? Or maybe only if the person speaking is a member of the school district. That sounds completely fair. Gee, I can't imagine that would have any effect on community members who are also employees speaking their mind. (All sarcasm intended.) Dr. Zuravalec does not have to respond to your question or Dr. Shamey's remarks. This was a public forum and Dr. Shamey has every right to stand there and say what she said. She did not call anyone a racist, you are attributing that to her statement.
Irving Ginsberg August 06, 2013 at 11:20 AM
Try this:http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypocrite 2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings My statements stand. Barry, let's not be absurd by generalizing about the Board speaking out after every public comment. In the past, the Board has not hesitated immediately to speak out after public comments on which they disagree--e.g., meeting on June 2011.
Irving Ginsberg August 06, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Barry, I don't if you need an education or not. If you do, there is not enough space on this blog to do that. First, though, I recommend buying a dictionary if you don't have one. If you have one, use it occasionally. You and the like-minded need to wake up and stop swallowing everything the District says without question.
Kayla West August 06, 2013 at 12:47 PM
Barry, don't waste your time. There are people in our community that have a lot of anger and can't see past their own thoughts and emotions. They obviously don't want to have an honest discussion. They only continue to throw tantrums. The interesting thing is, I know others in our community who were on the fence about the bond issue but have decided to vote yes simply because of the hateful, untruthful things said and written by people in this tiny yet vocal group. It's sad and embarrassing for our community but fortunately they don't represent the vast majority of our neighbors and friends who, no matter what side of an issue they fall on, can have the discussion in a meaningful way.
Barry August 06, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Mr. Ginsberg- OH YES, by all means let's not be absurd. LOLOLOLOL! You did not seriously just post that!
Barry August 06, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Ms. West- Thanks for your post. I really appreciate it.
Sharon August 06, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Ms. West, Throwing tantrums? I don't believe Dr. Ginsberg, physics professor, scientist, special needs advocate would ever be described as angry or throwing tantrums. "Tiny but vocal group?" The same can be said about those supporting this millage. I guess the discussion is only meaningful if they agree with your side. That is the gist of what my 2 children learned at FHS. It has taken a lot of effort to counter that, and you have no idea what my family has personally been through there. Everybody has a history that drives their opinions. I hope yours is better than mine.
max brown August 06, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Priceless!!! Ms. Burstein-Kahn has a comment for everything, every day, all day long. And yet, she can't respond when approached by a reporter and has to have Kerry Jackson be her mouthpiece? Now we have the president of an unregistered illegal organization being Ms. Kahn's protector? Kahn is now bringing up the alleged "racism" issue in every one of her bazillion posts (a common defense mechanism) yet declines to talk to a reporter? Dr. Shamey never called anyone a racist. Please watch the tape and hear for yourself. What she said was “what I believe is a racist idea.” The only time the word “racist” was used. Never once did she call anyone a racist. She’s completely correct; the opposition is “using their anger in hostility to be obstructionists.” Yet, Sue Berstein -Kahn refers to parents and teachers who support the bond as "Hitleresque” because they don’t agree with her. Me thinks the accused doth protest too much! You just can't write this stuff. She is her own reality show via The Patch. Please Ms. Kahn, if you hate this district so much add a For Sale sign next to your Vote No sign. Your 15 minutes of fame has long passed.
Barry August 06, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Max Brown- Nice!
Lori Roberts August 06, 2013 at 04:12 PM
All I see are a group of people who if they don't like the oppositions choice or point of view, the word "Racist" pops into play. Is this supposed to be the buzz word for Shut Up!?? Come now, the teacher knew exactly what she was saying and knew exactly what the reaction would be. I Wonder Where She Got The Idea From??? Look, the board already pounced on citizens over a year ago. I was disgusted after reading The Patch Story myself! And I'm Not Jewish. I almost can't believe what I've read and listened to on that Infamous night at the Open school board meeting. When's the next meeting? Gosh though, I don't have Pandora, Coach, Gucci, or Prada. Will They let me in?
FHVoice August 06, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Lori, if that is all you see, you have chosen to be blind. The bond issue deserves support. It also deserves truthful debate, not incessant misrepresentation of that facts or actions of board. Oh, have you ever been denied access to a meeting? Try it for once. Finally, nothing prevents you from posting substantive arguments about the bond issue.
Irving Ginsberg August 06, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Sharon, Thank you for your support. The barbs don't bother me because I know the kind of minds that we are dealing with here, having dealt with them for decades. When they have no facts or can't argue rationally they resort to abusive language and name-calling.
Irving Ginsberg August 06, 2013 at 05:04 PM
As for you "FHVoice," what facts have been misrepresented? Present some facts. I have multiple times presented facts on the actions of the Board and Administration. Which ones are not truthful? I can provide references if you will specify which ones.
FHVoice August 06, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Re Irving last post: LMAO! Really. I thought you liked SBK's rather excited posts.
Irving Ginsberg August 06, 2013 at 05:17 PM
FHVoice -- no facts, just drivel and inanities. If you don't know what the last word means, borrow Barry's new dictionary.
Joni Hubred-Golden (Editor) August 06, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Everyone, Patch encourages a lively dialogue, but please refrain from personal attacks and stick to a discussion of the issues. Please remember our three main principles: “Keep it clean,” “Don’t try to trick people,” and “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” (Especially that last one.)
Lori Roberts August 07, 2013 at 11:16 AM
The article is not about the bond.  It's about a super who decides to punish a Citizen for what, hearsay?  This must be a new way the Public School System handles 'justice'?  Are we a nation of Innocent until proven Guilty or Guilty until proven Innocent?  Was the citizen arrested?  Was the citizen allowed an attorney?  Where is the supers proof?  Is it legal to ban citizens from open meetings? Is there a video?  I know there was a video of the meeting.  I watched.  I heard no outburst from the audience.  Why was "Racist" even brought into the conversation by the teacher?  The article says the Patch received this information via FOIA.  How did the Patch even know about the supers disgruntled emotions before the FOIA?  Was the reporter of this story at the said meeting?  Did They hear an outburst?  Does the Patch and the super have a 'relationship' the people should know about?  Will others be targeted if disagreeance occurs?   How far will the super go with this new found power?  Do we still have a First Amendment?  Don't you Wished we all would have gotten the memo on how new government works in the public school?  I sure do.  "Question With Boldness ... " ~ Thomas Jefferson.  Perhaps We should re-read the headline.  Stay on topic.  
Raynond Oakleyr August 09, 2013 at 09:08 AM
Superintendent Sue Zuvalec, seems to be impressed with her power instead of her realizing that her bond issue faiiled and be accountable for amount of money she spent on this vote she desided to talk her blind followers to spend even more money in November she wil go out as the Superintendent that spent the most . Were other school districts are cutting back living within there budgets. And what happened to the money that is and will be coming from selling off school property or is the cash she is using for pushing throught her plan to be the superintendent who spent the most. And she has the mentality if you dont't agree with her she will find away to have you banded from further meetings .it is eather her way or the highway and the highway . We the voters have spoken and no matter how much you spend or how many time you put it on the ballot guess what it is not going to happened
FHVoice August 09, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Yes, the Aug bond issue was defeated by less than 1,000 votes. Yes, Superintendent Zuvalec feels the request was valid, and that a need remains unfilled. However, the slur that "she has the mentality if you dont't agree with her she will find away to have you banded from further meetings" is false. As to your declaration that no school bond issue will ever pass, well, that's just pure hubris.


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