Your Turn: In defense of school district’s actions
I am writing in response to your Dec. 2, 2016, editorial regarding the Lawrence Board of Education and open government. KS.A. 45-221(a)( 4) allows a public agency to withhold personnel information to protect the privacy of public employees. Likewise, KS.A. 75-4319(b)(l) provides an exception to the Kansas Open Meetings Act that allows public bodies to enter into executive session to discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel so as to protect the privacy of the individuals discussed. Just as the Lawrence school district values students and school families and is committed to protecting their confidentiality, the district values its employees and strives to protect their privacy rights within the parameters of the law. We do our best not to release personnel information,except as required by law.
When a concern was raised in October that a teacher may have made racist comments to a class, we immediately opened an investigation. The district takes seriously concerns of this nature. Our schools must provide safe learning environments — free from discrimination and harassment. When we opened the investigation, we informed staff and parents and made a public announcement. We decided at that time that it was appropriate that the teacher not be named to protect the privacy of the employee until the investigation was complete and a determination could be made as to the allegation. Upon the conclusion of the investigation and before the school board made its decision, the teacher chose to resign, effective at the end of the school year. We again decided, in consultation with legal counsel, that it was appropriate that the teacher not be named in order to protect the employee’s privacy.
We did think, however, that students, parents, and the public deserved to know about the teacher’s resignation, so the board approved the resignation without naming the teacher, but indicating that the employment action involved the person who was the subject of the investigation. At that time, we again notified students, staff, and parents at the school involved, and made a public statement. I understand that some, including your Editorial Board, may disagree with our attempt to balance the privacy rights of a teacher with the public’s right to know. We made these decisions because we value our employees and strive to protect employee privacy within the parameters of the law. The district, and the thoughtful and dedicated volunteers who serve on the school board, will continue to do our best to protect the rights of students and staff, to maintain safe learning environments for all students, and to address any concerns that are raised swiftly, appropriately, and in accordance with the law.
— Kyle Hayden is the superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools.