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Union sues to block online access to past Utah teacher discipline cases

Published July 12, 2017 7:19 am

Database • The website doesn't describe misconduct but offers searchable information on punishments.
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Utah's largest teachers union is suing the state school board over a new website that allows the public to search a database of disciplinary actions taken against educators.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in 3rd District Court by the Utah Education Association, but it has not yet been formally served to the Utah Board of Education.

Kass Harstad, an attorney representing the union, said the key issue is the retroactive nature of the website, which launched in February after a November vote of the board but includes information dating back 10 years. The database does not specify misconduct, but it includes information on punishments received during that 10-year window of a teacher's career.



Most cases of teacher discipline are settled through stipulated agreements — comparable to plea deals in criminal court. But before creation of the website, Harstad said, those agreements did not include the possibility of a teacher's punishments being published online.

"Now the terms of what they've accepted have changed," Harstad said. "We have people that would not have entered into these stipulated agreements, had they known there would be this public, searchable database."

She said the school board has appeared more receptive to the UEA's concerns since new members were elected in November, and amendments have been proposed that could mitigate the union's complaint.

But the statute of limitations, or deadline, for a lawsuit would have expired on Monday, Harstad said, prompting the UEA to file its complaint and preserve the option of litigation.

"We would rather work on this collaboratively with the board," Harstad said.

The lawsuit challenges the school board's authority to publish teacher discipline. It asserts that Utah's Administrative Procedures Act — which governs comparable databases, like one used by the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, or DOPL — does not apply to the Utah Board of Education.

"There's no other statute that gives [the board] the right to create this website," Harstad said.

Associate State Superintendent Angela Stallings confirmed that the school board is considering amendments to its policy on the website, she but noted that a discussion on the topic was removed from the agenda for Thursday's meeting of the board's Law and Licensing Committee.

"The board wants to have an opportunity to talk about the lawsuit with their counsel before taking any action on the rule," Stallings said.

Stallings said the website was intended to improve the transparency of disciplinary records, which are public but traditionally have required a formal request through Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.

While the website is limited to the past 10 years of a teacher's career, a parent or student could request information on any action taken against a Utah public school educator.

"Those records are still GRAMA-able," Stallings said.

David Thomas, an assistant Utah attorney general who works with the school board, said he was aware of the lawsuit but unable to comment on current litigation.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

 

 

 

 

 

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