Teacher sues school district to block records

A teacher fired by the School District of Superior has filed for an injunction to prevent the release of records pertaining to the termination. The case was filed Friday afternoon in Douglas County Circuit Court. According to the documents filed,...

A teacher fired by the School District of Superior has filed for an injunction to prevent the release of records pertaining to the termination.

The case was filed Friday afternoon in Douglas County Circuit Court.

According to the documents filed, the teacher, identified only as Jane and/or John Doe, is seeking to block a request for information filed by the Daily Telegram, temporarily and permanently by a court-ordered injunction against the School District of Superior. The teacher is also seeking a judgment against the school district "in an amount to be determined ... attorney's fees, costs and any other relief that may be appropriate."

After the school district released agendas for its July 11 meetings, which included a closed session meeting in which the board would consider "termination of employee" the Telegram sought additional information.

On July 10, the Telegram filed a written request for information based on Wisconsin's open records law seeking "the name of the employee, the employee's position with the school district, the cause for termination and the authority/policy under which the termination" was being considered. The request also sought the minutes of the closed session meeting when available.


"Teachers are public employees who play an integral role in the development of young people," said Ron Brochu, Daily Telegram executive editor. "When a school district finds cause not to renew one of their contracts, parents and other school districts have a clear right to know the reasons."

At the time the request was made, an attorney for the school district denied the request based on pending arbitration, which is allowed by Wisconsin law. Subsequently, the district notified the teacher of their intent to honor the Telegram's request for information.

According to documents filed in Douglas County Circuit Court: "On Aug. 7, 2006, the Plaintiff received notice that the School District intended to provide the Daily Telegram with copies of all statements and records relating to the Plaintiff's termination."

Superintendent Jay Mitchell verified the teacher was notified the district intends to comply with the Telegram's request for information.

"I think we did that as a result of the articles and that," Mitchell said referring to an editorial and a news story that appeared in the Daily Telegram since July 10. "The press was requesting -- you know you made that request under the open records law ... They have a certain amount of time and I believe that is why they are bringing the lawsuit forward to stop the release or disclosure."

So far, an arbitration hearing in the case has not been set, which could prevent the release of records, at least for now. The injunction, if granted, could temporarily or permanently bar the school district from providing the information requested by Telegram.

Mitchell said it could be October or November before an arbitration hearing is heard in the case. So far, a hearing date has not been set for arbitration, he said.

In June, the school district released records requested by the Telegram after an 18-year-old student filed a complaint with the Superior Police Department about unwanted sexual advances by a teacher. The teacher involved in that incident did not contest the Telegram's request, which revealed he had been suspended for 10 days for professional misconduct. It's not know if that incident is related to the district's July decision to terminate a teacher.


According to the complaint filed by Bloomington, Minn., attorney Phillip G. Villaume, the teacher "will suffer irreparable harm if any of the information requested is released ... in particular, Plaintiff's reputation will be lowered in the estimation of the teaching community and the community in general."

In addition, Villaume states "an individual's private interest outweighs the public's right to have access to the records."

The school district, like any part of the government, is accountable and parents have a right to know what is going on with their children, said Ken Browall, Daily Telegram publisher.

"It's possible that by us reporting the inappropriate conduct other incidents where students have been afraid to reveal might come forward, give school district officials even more reason to address the teacher's conduct and further relationship with students," Brochu said. "And the media can also play a role in sharing information with other potential employers by providing information about teachers that might not otherwise be available within their own system."

A hearing for the injunction request had not been scheduled as of press time.

"The public, parents in particular, have a right to know what is going on in the school district," Browall said. "This information is the public's right. We believe legally we have a right to the information and we will pursue that course to get that information."

SHELLEY NELSON covers local government. Call her at 394-4411, ext. 134, or e-mail .

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