Disciplinary records on schoolteacher must be disclosed
VERMONT–The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus in late January won its suit for access to an agreement between Duxbury City School Board and a teacher disciplined by the board. The Washington County Superior Court in Waterbury also ordered the school board to pick up $10,000 of the newspaper’s attorney fees.
The newspaper’s suit arose from a request it made of the school board for documents surrounding the suspension and later reinstatement of Kathy Dean, a teacher at Duxbury Elementary School. The newspaper and parents in the community sought disclosure of the agreement reached between the teacher and the school board after the board met in executive session to discuss an incident, which involved one of Dean’s students, leading to Dean’s suspension.
The board initially denied the newspaper’s request, terming the requested document “confidential.” But it later released the agreement and a public statement with the teacher’s consent. The board did not release an additional “protocol” section of the agreement outlining supervision of the teacher’s future conduct. The board claimed the protocol was a separate document, exempt from disclosure as a “personal” document.
The court ruled that the protocol was part of the agreement between the school board and the teacher and must be released. The court noted that in the school board agreement, Dean had waived her right to assert a privacy interest in any part of the agreement, including the protocol.
The court cited also the school board’s own public statement on the release of the agreement indicating a intent to inform the public on the board’s disciplinary process. Any assertion of an exemption, the court opined, should be given a narrow reading.
In this case, the court stated, the protocol was “not of a personal nature which contains information that might reveal intimate details of a person’s life or subject a person to embarrassment, harassment, disgrace, or loss of employment or friends.”
Noting that public interest was “by far, the most significant factor in this case,” the court awarded the newspaper $10,000 in attorney’s fees. (Times Argus Assoc. v. Duxbury School Bd.; Media Counsel: Bob Hemley, Burlington)