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A Times Editorial

Editorial: Bring school business into the sunshine

The Hillsborough County School Board should take the opportunity Tuesday to reverse course on throwing a curtain over disciplinary proceedings. The move earlier this month was rash and misguided. It is not a measure of protection for the staff but a cover-up for sloppy management and another layer of secrecy for a school district that is leading a national charge to make the teaching profession more accountable.

The Hillsborough school district had been posting the names of employees who were facing suspension or termination on an online agenda for upcoming school board meetings. Under state law, those records are public, meaning that anyone could request the file and review the district's case against an employee. Pinellas and Pasco counties do the same thing, as governments everywhere make the transition to posting more public information online. But earlier this month, Hillsborough School Board members voted 5-2 to end the practice and to return to the old policy of having the names provided shortly before the meeting to board members.

School Board member Doretha Edgecomb said she wanted to protect the privacy and dignity of employees who had not exhausted their due process protections. But that's not what this policy change does. It merely creates a mechanism for frustrating the public from obtaining records that already are available under Florida law. It's a harassment measure, not a privacy provision. And it creates two tiers of access to lawfully available information: Those who know how to navigate the district bureaucracy can obtain the names in a timely manner; those who don't, can't.

On a practical level, the change hurts everyone involved except the very school bureaucracy that is prosecuting the case. Teachers and other employees are denied the full opportunity to round up supporters and mount a defense. Parents are left in the dark about the behavior and record of those entrusted with their child's care. And in the formative stage of the board's decisionmaking process, the public is denied a full picture of how the disciplinary case was handled. That is a recipe for half-baked investigations and witch hunts.

This is the wrong course for a district that is overhauling its process for evaluating teachers, in what is a national model for bringing greater accountability to the classroom. The board is scheduled to revisit the decision Tuesday. It needs to bring the public's business back into the sunshine.

Editorial: Bring school business into the sunshine 04/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 5:41pm]
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