Highlands again refuses to name employee put on unpaid leave | TribLIVE.com
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Brian C. Rittmeyer

Highlands School District placed a middle school English teacher who has worked for the district for more than 20 years on unpaid leave in April.

But the district is refusing to name the teacher despite a recent state ruling in a separate but similar case where the district was ordered to do so.

The school district responded Thursday to a Right-to-Know request made by the Tribune-Review on April 16, the day after the school board voted to approve a statement of charges against the unidentified employee and placed him or her on leave without pay.

The teacher was identified then only as “employee #4367.”

Statements of charges are formal notices issued by school officials detailing proposed reasons for firing an employee. Nothing is known about the nature of the charges in this latest case.

The newspaper objected during the meeting on the basis that taking such action without identifying the employee could violate the state’s Sunshine Act. The act requires the board to offer a meaningful opportunity for the public to comment before official action, which they cannot do if they do not know who the subject is.

According to information the district did release, the teacher in this case is still employed by the district. The teacher began working for the district on Aug. 27, 1997 and has an $85,475 salary this school year.

On April 30, the state’s Office of Open Records ruled that the district had to release the name of an employee the school board approved a statement of charges against and placed on unpaid leave in February. The Tribune-Review appealed to the office after the school district released that employee’s job title, length of employment and salary, but withheld the name.

The district’s response regarding the English teacher is inconsistent with the ruling, but does not violate the prior order because that decision deals with a different, although similar, record, said Melissa Melewsky, a media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

Rather than release the employee’s name, the school board has voted to appeal the office’s ruling to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

District Solicitor Ira Weiss said the district wants a judge to decide if school districts can keep the names of employees facing disciplinary actions out of public view.

Weiss confirmed that employee’s name as Andrew B. Kotyk after the school board approved a $31,202 settlement and release agreement with Kotyk.

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