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State appeals court rules teacher discipline records public

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  1. Freedom of Information

    News Media Update         CONNECTICUT         Freedom of Information    

State appeals court rules teacher discipline records public

  • The Connecticut Appellate Court ruled that teacher disciplinary records are public under the state Freedom of Information Act.

April 29, 2004 — A “last chance agreement” between a teacher and a public high school is a public record under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, the state Appellate Court ruled last week. Under the act, disciplinary records are public, although teacher performance evaluations are not.

Tolland High School American government teacher James Wiese showed a British documentary film on censorship titled “Damned in the USA” to his class in 1999. Although Wiese advised his students as to the content of the film days before it was shown, and excused anyone who chose not to watch it, the parents of student Matthew Reardon complained to the school board that their son had been offended by some of the film’s scenes.

Wiese’s superiors found the film to be “age inappropriate” — the court ruling does not specify how old Wiese’s students were, or what made the film inappropriate — and suspended him for two weeks. In January 2000, Wiese and the school signed the “last chance agreement,” detailing the incident, Wiese’s punishment and penalties for future violations.

In February 2002, Manchester Journal Inquirer reporter Chris Dehnel requested the agreement under the state FOI Act. As required by the act, the school notified Wiese of the request. He objected to the release of the agreement, and the school refused to turn it over, claiming it was a teacher performance evaluation exempt from disclosure.

The newspaper appealed the denial to the state FOI Commission, which ruled in August 2002 that the agreement was not a teacher performance evaluation and must be disclosed as a disciplinary record. Wiese and the school appealed to the Superior Court in New Britain, which ruled for the newspaper last June.

They then appealed to the state Appellate Court.

In an opinion officially released April 27, but made available a week earlier, Judge Antionette Dupont affirmed the order to release the agreement.

While acknowledging that the distinction between performance evaluations and discipline can be “rather amorphous,” Dupont held that “[s]ome curriculum-related activities may involve personal misconduct and others may not. An activity may be related collaterally to teaching but nevertheless merit discipline. . . . This is such a case.”

(Wiese v. Freedom of Information Commission; Medial Counsel: Harlan Levy, West Hartford, Conn.) GP

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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