Highlands stalls on releasing name of employee placed on unpaid leave
The Highlands School District is not identifying an employee recently placed on unpaid leave.
The school board approved that action, and a statement of charges, against the unidentified employee at its Jan. 21 meeting.
The employee was referred to only as “employee #7121,” and no information on the charges was released.
Under the state’s Right to Know law, the Tribune-Review filed a request on Jan. 22 to obtain the employee’s name and the charges filed against him or her.
Lori Byron, the district’s right-to-know officer, said the district is invoking a 30-day extension to respond to the request, citing three reasons: that the records are “stored in a remote location,” that the district cannot provide a timely response “due to bona fide and specific staffing limitations,” and because “the extent or nature of the request precludes a response within the required time period.”
District Solicitor Ira Weiss said his firm was not involved in the district’s response.
While not identifying the employee, Weiss said the employee is not a teacher and the matter does not involve any students. Police are not involved, he said.
“It’s an internal employment matter,” Weiss said.
The request should not have been necessary, as the employee’s name, job title or position, and salary are public information under the state Right to Know law, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
“The board should have announced the name prior to the vote so the public could provide meaningful public comment prior to official action, so that’s a Sunshine Act issue,” she said. “The public can’t exercise their right to provide public comment if they don’t know who/what’s being voted on.”
Weiss said he disagrees that not releasing the employee’s name is a violation of the Sunshine Act. The person’s name will be released when the matter is finally resolved, he said.
“Right now, we’re in the midst of the employment process,” he said. “I don’t believe the Sunshine Act requires disclosure of the name at this point.”
According to Melewsky, what often happens is that a school district administration will suspend an employee outside of a public meeting.
“But, when the board is involved and makes the decision to suspend, it has to happen at a public meeting, and only after a meaningful opportunity for public comment,” she said. “The public can’t provide meaningful input if they don’t know who is subject to the vote.”
The school board cannot deny public comment on any issue that is up for a vote, Melewsky said.
“Such a prohibition would clearly be inconsistent with the plain letter of the Sunshine Act,” she said. “If the board is proposing to take action, any action, the public gets to comment — meaningfully, before the vote.”
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, email@example.com or via Twitter .