Teachers employment applications not ‘essential’ part of record
PENNSYLVANIA–Employment applications for teaching positions in the Hazleton Area School District may be withheld from The (Wilkes- Barre) Times Leader, a state appeals court in Harrisburg unanimously ruled in mid-March.
The court held that because the applications were not “essential components” of the hiring decisions, they do not qualify as public records subject to the state Right to Know Act.
Before a document may constitute an “essential component” of an agency decision, the agency must have access to the document and the document must actually be reviewed by the agency in reaching its decision, the court said. Here, although all prospective teachers are required to complete an application, the hiring bodies review only a summary of the applications, the court noted.
Even if the applications were deemed public records, the confidential information contained within them is protected from disclosure, the court said. Privacy interests in the applications outweigh the benefits of release, the court found.
The application packet submitted to the school district contains the candidates’ home addresses, home telephone numbers, social security numbers, college transcripts, physical examination reports and child abuse clearances from the Pennsylvania State Police and the state Department of Public Welfare.
In July 1996, Times Leader reporters requested access to the applications of candidates deemed qualified by the school district. The newspaper stated that it would accept the records with confidential information redacted. After both the school district and a trial court denied requests, the newspaper appealed. (Cypress Media v. Hazleton Area School District; Media Counsel: Edward Rogers, Philadelphia)