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Some Teachers Accused of Sexual Misconduct Merit Privacy, Washington State Court Rules

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Teachers with "unsubstantiated" allegations of sexual misconduct in their personnel files deserve privacy protection, Washington state's highest court ruled today.

The court ruled 6-3 against arguments by The Seattle Times newspaper that regardless of the outcome of a school district's investigation, the names of teachers alleged to have committed sexual misconduct are of legitimate public concern.

"We hold that the public lacks a legitimate interest in the identities of teachers who are the subjects of unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct because the teachers’ identities do not aid in effective government oversight by the public and the teachers’ right to privacy does not depend on the quality of the school districts’ investigations," said the majority opinion in Bellevue John Does 1-11 v. Bellevue School District.

The newspaper in 2002 filed requests under Washington state's public-records law with three school districts, seeking copies of records relating to allegations of teacher sexual misconduct over the previous 10 years. A number of teachers who had allegations of sexual misconduct in their records but were not criminally charged or disciplined sued to prevent the records' release.

At issue before the state high court were the records of 15 "John Does" from the Bellevue, Federal Way, and Seattle school districts.

"In essence, disclosure of the identities of teachers who are the subject of unsubstantiated allegations serves no interest other than gossip and sensation," said the opinion signed by five of the six justices who concurred in the outcome of the case.

The dissenting opinion cited a 2004 U.S. Department of Education study that suggested 9.6 percent of all children in grades 8-11 suffer educator sexual misconduct. (The dissent didn't mention that the Education Department released the report with "reservations" about the author's scope, as Education Week reported here.)

The dissenters said that because some school districts do not adequately investigate some allegations, some misconduct is recorded as unsubstantiated.

"As a consequence, predatory teachers may go undetected and unpunished," the dissent said. "But the most unfortunate consequence, and one that is completely unacceptable, is that if predatory teachers are undetected, children will continue to suffer at their hands."

The Associated Press reports here. The Seattle Times reports here.

Edweek.org has a special page called "A Lingering Shame," which is a collection of stories the AP did on teacher sexual abuse, as well as links to an award-winning series the Education Week published on the topic both in 1998 and 2003 called "A Trust Betrayed."

14 Comments

Protecting the privacy of the accused is something that most courts do poorly, from leaking the name of the accused onto the local news to posting the names and faces of those arrested (but not convicted) of DUI charges. Good job for the courts on this decision.

Who is saying that the allegations are unsubstantiated? Is it the school district who may be liable if the allegations are found to be valid? Or is this the result of a police investigation?

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Teacher should not be hurt for thinks that are not true a student can make somethink up if they get a bad grade or don't like a teacher

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Kabonfootprint

Certainly knowing the names of the accused would allow other victims of abuse to come forward. Where there is one victim, there are sure to be more. Victims will be less fearful if they know their abuser is being dealt with.

The numbers speak for themselves in schools today. 5,000 cases of sexual abuse by teachers over the last three years.

Is it the school district who may be liable if the allegations are found to be valid?

good job for the court.

good job

unless the allegations are proving the should not be on their records how do you know a student was not trying to blackmail him for a better grade by making something up

It amazes me how there are now so many female teachers being caught - will they be dealt with as harshly as the male offenders?

More female teachers are getting caught latly or are the only now starting to do things about it?
Was it ignored in the past when the teachers were female?

That's a really great job!

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