PRESTONSBURG — A middle school teacher has the right to review his personnel file, including complaints made against him, according to an opinion by Attorney General Jack Conway.
Adams Middle School teacher Steve Romans, through his attorney, Earl “Mickey” McGuire, asked the Attorney General’s Office to intervene, after Romans was denied access to records in his file. Conway’s office ruled Sept. 14 that the Floyd County Board of Education had improperly withheld the records, in violation of the state Open Records Act.
McGuire’s office received copies of the records last week. He said he is currently trying to determine if he has received everything Romans had been seeking.
McGuire said Thursday that Romans had been involved in an altercation last year with a disruptive student. Although he said his client “took steps that he thought were reasonable” to control the student, someone filed a complaint against Romans afterwards.
After the complaint was filed, McGuire said, Romans was summoned to the school office and handed a copy of the complaint. He was told to read the complaint and then provide a written response.
“He was not allowed to copy it,” McGuire said. “He was just allowed to read it.”
Following the incident, the board issued a warning letter to Romans. He continues to teach in the school system today.
The attorney general’s office found the the board violated the state Open Records Act in denying Romans’ request for “copies of any written statements filled out concerning the allegations against him, whether by students or staff.”
The Open Records Act requires all state documents to be open to review by the public, except in certain, narrow situations. Some of those exemptions include preliminary and draft materials and records related to a current investigation.
The board had claimed the records Romans sought were exempt from release.
“[A]ny written statements obtained from students represent preliminary drafts, notes, correspondence with private individuals which are otherwise [exempted] from disclosure by KRS 61.878(1)(i) and are preliminary materials which were part of the investigation and which are exempt by [sic] disclosure by KRS 61.878(1)(j),” board attorney Michael J. Schmitt wrote in a letter denying Romans’ request.
In his appeal to the attorney general, however, McGuire wrote that the board failed to consider another section of the Open Records Act, which provides that “no exemption in this section shall be construed to deny, abridge or impede the right of a public agency employee … to inspect and to copy and [sic] record including preliminary and other supporting documentation that relates to him.”
That section of the law proved to be pivotal to the attorney general’s opinion.
“We find that the Board of Education improperly invoked these exemptions because Mr. McGuire had requested on behalf of his client, a public agency employee, records that related to him,” the opinion says.
McGuire said he is puzzled as to why the board fought releasing the records, since Romans had been seeking records about himself. He said public employees have always had the right to review documents in their personnel files.
“That’s not like science,” McGuire said. “That’s pretty standard. That’s why I was sort of surprised when we had to go to the attorney general.”
McGuire said there is no lawsuit currently pending in the case, and he “has no way of anticipating one way or the other” whether there will be. He said Romans is more interested in his immediate future.
“We were trying to contest any action the Department of Education might take because of this warning letter,” McGuire said.
However, McGuire said he is currently trying to determine whether or not he has received all of the records, because Romans believes the complaint he initially reviewed after the incident is missing.
If the document is missing, McGuire said he does not believe it is missing because of any shenanigans by the board. He said it is possible that some unknown person removed the original complaint from the file.
“They said they have turned over all of the records they have,” McGuire said. “I have no reason to doubt that … The question I have is why what is in their file does not match the one he read.”