FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Donald H. Schiller and The Meriden Record Co.,

 

Complainants,

 

against Docket #FIC 87-83

 

Meriden Board of Education,,President, Meriden Board of Education, and Meriden Superintendent of Schools,

 

Respondents August 23, 1989

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 29, 1987, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. Per order of the Superior Court (Corrigan, J.) in its March 1, 1989 Memorandum of Decision, the hearing was reopened on July 11, 1989, at which time the parties again appeared and presented additional testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:

 

1. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter dated February 17, 1987, the complainants asked the respondents to provide copies of the following records:

 

a. any complaints filed against Robert Sorensen, a Meriden teacher;

 

b. the results of the respondent board's investigation of the complaints;

 

c. the minutes of the respondent board's meeting about Mr. Sorensen's resignation;

 

d. and Mr. Sorensen's letter of resignation.

 

3. The complainants received the records described in paragraphs 2c and d, above.

 

Docket #FIC 87-83 Page Two

 

4. The records described in paragraph 2b, above, do not exist.

 

5. The respondents made a timely oral denial of the complainants' request for the records described in paragraph 2a, above, and formalized their denial in a letter dated March 9, 1987.

 

6. By letter of complaint dated March 24, 1987, and filed with the Commission on March 25, 1987, the complainants appealed to the Commission from the respondents' denial.

 

7. The respondents claim the records in question are exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S., as personnel or similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of privacy. The respondents claim the privacy of both the teacher and those who complained about him would be invaded.

 

8. The respondents further claim that to the extent those who complained were students, records of their complaints are prohibited from disclosure as educational records under 20 U.S.C. 1232g, commonly called the Buckley Amendment.

 

9. The respondents also claim that the records are exempt from disclosure under 10-151c, G.S., as teacher evaluation and performance records.

 

10. On both hearing dates the respondents offered the records in question for in camera inspection by the Commission. On April 29, 1987 the hearing officer declined the offer. On July 11, 1989 the hearing officer accepted the records for in camera inspection by the Commission, per order of the Superior Court.

 

11. It is found that the records in question are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.

 

12. It is found that these records are part of the personnel file of a public employee and pertain to that employee's public employment.

 

13. It is also found that the subject teacher, who voluntarily chose to serve the public and be paid with public funds, has very limited personal privacy rights in matters pertaining to his public employment.

 

14. It is found that there is a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of records about its employee in matters pertaining to his employment.

 

Docket #FIC 87-83 Page Three

 

15. It is found more specifically that the records in question are written complaints by public school students about a teacher.

 

16. It is found that the complaints contain allegations about the teacher that were not investigated by the respondents.

 

17. It is found, however, that the subject teacher chose to resign before the respondents began any formal investigation or termination proceedings.

 

18. It is found that there is a heightened public interest in the disclosure of these records about its employee since he was entrusted with the education and welfare of children.

 

19. It is found that the public interest in disclosure is further heightened since the records are complaints filed by the very children with whom this employee was entrusted.

 

20. It is found that the public interest is also heightened since the teacher forfeited his livlihood rather than have the complaints investigated.

 

21. Thus it is concluded that the legitimate public interest in disclosure of the records in question clearly outweighs any limited privacy interest of the subject of those records.

 

22. It is concluded, therefore, that with respect to the teacher and the substance of the complaints the requested records are not exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S.

 

23. It is found that the complainants are not seeking the identities of the students.

 

24. It is further found that disclosure of the students' identities would invade their personal privacy.

 

25. Although not specifically claimed, the Commission notes that the indentities of those students may be exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(11), G.S.

 

26. It is also found that the Buckley Amendment's prohibition against disclosure of records is not compulsory or mandatory, but merely a condition precedent to the granting of federal funds to educational institutions.

 

27. It is concluded, therefore, that the records in question are not exempt from disclosure under 20 U.S.C. 1232g.

 

Docket #FIC 87-83 Page Four

 

28. It is found that the records described in paragraph 2a, above, do not constitute teacher evaluation and performance records within the meaning of 10-151c, G.S.

 

29. Thus it is concluded that the requested records are not exempt from disclosure under 10-151c, G.S.

 

30. It is also concluded that the respondents violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by denying the complainants' request for copies of the complaints against the teacher with information identifying others redacted.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

 

1. The respondents forthwith shall provide the complainants with a copy of the documents described in paragraph 2a, above.

 

2. The respondents shall redact, mask or otherwise conceal any and all information that identifies persons other than the subject of the complaints, Mr. Sorensen.

 

3. The respondents henceforth shall act in strict compliance with 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.

 

PURSUANT TO 4-180(c) C.G.S THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE F.O.I.C., OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.

 

THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:

 

DONALD H. SCHILLER AND THE MERIDEN RECORD CO.

Crown Street Square

Meriden, CT 06450

 

BOARD OF EDUCATION, PRESIDENT, MERIDEN BOARD OF EDUCATION AND

MERIDEN SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS

c/o Thomas N. Sullivan, Esquire

Sullivan, Lettick & Schoen

646 Prospect Avenue

Hartford, CT 06105

 

MERIDEN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS

c/o James Ferguson, Esquire

McWeeny and Ferguson

638 Prospect Avenue

Hartford, CT 06105

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 23, 1989.

 

 

Tina C. Frappier

Acting Clerk of the Commission