naming names

After high court rejects case, Jeffco must release names of teachers who called in sick in protest

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Standley Lake High School students rallied near their school Sept. 19, 2014, to raise awareness over a proposed curriculum panel that would report to the school district's Board of Education. The rally was the same day as an apparent teacher "sick out."

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a state appeals court decision holding that sick-leave records are not part of a public school teacher’s confidential personnel file.

The denial of certiorari means that Golden parent Kathy Littlefield will finally get the names of teachers who called in sick from four Jefferson County high schools over two days in September 2014.

Some of the teachers said at the time they were taking “collective action” to protest school board policies. When Littlefield requested the teachers’ names, the Jefferson County Education Association sued to block their release. The union lost in district court, and the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision in January.

“I still want the names,” Littlefield said Monday. “Those teachers could transfer to the school where my kids are at, and I’d like to know who they are. I think other parents would like to know too.”

By Tuesday, Littlefield had already received some information on teachers who called in sick, Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Diana Wilson said. She added that Littlefield may receive more after the school district finishes researching her request.

Attorneys for the union contended that teacher-absence records are private and protected from disclosure under the personnel files exemption of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). The records sought by Littlefield, they claimed, are “a classic example of information maintained because of the employer-employee relationship” that must not be disclosed to the public under CORA.

The Court of Appeals, however, held that this phrase in the open-records law – “information maintained because of the employer-employee relationship” – refers to information “of the same general nature as an employee’s home address and telephone number or personal financial information.”

The appellate court noted that “a teacher’s absence is directly related to the teacher’s job as a public employee.” It added that sick-leave records pertain to language in CORA that requires disclosure of “any compensation, including expense allowances and benefits, paid to employees by the state, its agencies, institutions, or political subdivisions.”

Because the Court of Appeals’ ruling stands, it is now a binding decision that may help determine the outcome of a separate government-employee records case pending in Arapahoe County District Court.

A judge last week heard arguments in that case, which involves complaints and disciplinary actions against Cherry Creek School District bus drivers, requested by 9NEWS for recent stories on school bus safety. As in the Jeffco case, government-employee unions have sued to block the release of the records, claiming they are part of a driver’s confidential personnel file.

9NEWS attorney Steve Zansberg, who is president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, disputed that argument in court, noting the Court of Appeals’ narrow construction of the personnel records exemption. The exemption applies only to “information that is highly personal and private,” he said, not to information related to a public employee’s job performance.

The CFOIC has intervened in the bus driver records case on the side of 9NEWS as have The Denver Post, KCNC-TV, KDVR-TV, KMGH-TV and the Associated Press. The CFOIC and several news organizations submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in the Jeffco sick-leave records case.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.