Parents entrusting the welfare of their children to the Hillsborough County School District have a right to know in a timely matter when a school employee is facing disciplinary action. But the school board has violated that trust by voting to delay publishing the names of employees facing disciplinary action until shortly before the board considers action on those employees. The decision is an affront to Florida's open government tradition and should be reversed.
On average, the Hillsborough school board considers roughly six disciplinary cases at each meeting involving school personnel. Until recently, it had routinely posted the names of those facing possible suspension or termination on its website, allowing any member of the public to file an open records request to review the case against an employee. Pinellas County posts substantial public records information regarding employee disciplinary proceedings on its website. And Pasco County provides notification of disciplinary proceedings well in advance of school board meetings.
But at the urging of member Doretha Edgecomb, Hillsborough's school board voted 5-2 to limit public access to the names until shortly before the full board meets, making it difficult for the public to learn more about why the employee is being disciplined. Edgecomb said she was acting in response to the case of Ingrid Peavy, a Pierce Middle School teacher who was suspended after a disabled student walked away unnoticed from school. Edgecomb argued she was concerned about protecting the privacy of school personnel accused of wrongdoing.
Edgecomb should know better. As a longtime public school employee and a board member since 2004, Edgecomb ought to know that when someone collects a government paycheck and is entrusted with children, the same standards of privacy do not apply. Parents and the public have a right to be informed immediately if a teacher or other school employees are facing possible suspension or termination.
Current law may not compel Hillsborough to be more accountable to the public and the children it serves. But common sense does.