Kentucky appeals court refuses to exempt embarrassing information in teachers’ files
KENTUCKY — Teachers have no right to protest the disclosure of potentially embarrassing information about themselves under the personal privacy exemption to the Open Records Act, the Court of Appeals ruled in early December.
The remedies in the Open Records Act are to provide persons access to records, not to prohibit the release of objectionable information, the court said. Only the legal custodian of the records, not a third party, has the discretion to decide whether to withhold or disclose information.
“A teacher can have no realistic expectation that unprofessional or inappropriate conduct will be protected from public disclosure,” Judge Michael McDonald wrote in a concurring opinion in which he described some of the material the teachers were attempting to keep from being disclosed.
One teacher, Phillip L. Ritz, was trying to prevent the release of documents showing that he had picked up one of his high school students at a shopping center and taken her to his house, where her parents allegedly later found her in his bed, McDonald said. “Further,” he noted, “this happened after he was ordered by his principal not to be alone with the student.”
The case stems from an October 1992 request to the Jefferson County Board of Education by a Courier-Journal reporter for employment histories and disciplinary actions taken against seven teachers.
The teachers asked the board to withhold the records, based on privacy considerations. When the board refused, the teachers sued the board and the newspaper in circuit court in Louisville and lost.
After the adverse ruling by the Court of Appeals, sending the case back to the circuit court for dismissal, the teachers have filed an appeal with the Kentucky Supreme Court.
(Beckham v. Board of Education of Jefferson Co.; Media Counsel: Jon Fleischaker, Louisville)