WASHINGTON — An allegation of a teacher’s sexual misconduct is public record unless it is found to be “patently false,” a state court of appeals ruled Monday.
A three-judge appeals panel ordered that a school district release the names of 34 teachers accused of sexual harassment, while allowing the names of three teachers to remain private.
“School districts must disclose the names of teachers who have been accused of misconduct of a sexual nature, even when the districts have concluded after investigation that the allegations are unsubstantiated or too minor to justify discipline,” Judge Mary Kay Becker wrote in the ruling.
The suit was brought by 37 teachers in Seattle, Bellevue and Federal Way to keep the school districts from releasing personal information to The Seattle Times after the newspaper filed a request under the state’s Public Records Act.
Reporters wanted the records for a 2003 series detailing athletic coaches working in Washington schools after being rebuked or dismissed for sexual harassment, according to The Times.
“It should mean that parents, future employers and the press will be able to find out about public employees who’ve been investigated for misconduct on the job without regard to the label that the employer attached to the allegation,” Times attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard said in an article in the paper.
The Washington Education Association, who paid for a lawyer to represent some of the teachers, has not decided whether or not to pursue an appeal, according to The Times.
One of the plaintiffs who retained private counsel plans to file an appeal, the newspaper said.
—by Kyle McCarthy, SPLC staff writer
- Bellevue John Doe et al. v. Bellevue School District et al. Nos. 54300-8-I, 52304-0, 54380-6 (Wash.App.Div.1, Oct. 3, 2005)