The Argus Leader has a report today on their efforts to release the records of teachers who have been sanctioned by the state for professional violations, and the herculean efforts they have to make to pierce the wall of secrecy & obtain the records from the State of South Dakota:
Unlike neighboring states, South Dakota does not post details of its investigations into instances of teacher misconduct, forcing parents and other members of the public to submit an open records request to learn more about past violations.
After making such a request, Argus Leader Media was told Friday it would cost $4,410 to get a full history of disciplinary cases involving teachers and school officials.
Argus Leader Media found 36 cases of teachers who had their licenses revoked or suspended in recent years for making sexual advances toward students, for criminal activity, or for other — sometimes undisclosed — forms of misconduct.
Stories published last month would not have been possible without information released by the state Education Department, but the records were incomplete.
Names and case details were redacted in some cases, even if a teacher had received a so-called “public reprimand” from the state Professional Teachers Practices and Standards Commission, a seven-member board made up primarily of other teachers.
And the records only went back to 2008, including an open records response sent to Argus Leader Media as part of a 2012 investigation.
Because the timeline cuts off early, it’s unclear how many South Dakota teachers or school administrators have lost jobs or had their license suspended for breaking the state’s code of ethics.
Unusually, the teaching profession is shielded from public disclosure while other professionals in the private sector are not. Professionals in Real Estate, Accountancy, Insurance, and others have some forms of readily available & researchable disclosure.
So, why shouldn’t information on discipline be available on teachers certified through the State of South Dakota?
I posed the question to State Representative Al Novstrup, who was the recipient of the 2012 Eagle Award for “Protecting the People’s Right to Know” from the South Dakota Newspaper Association for being a champion of open government. And he agrees that South Dakota might need to open the door of accessibility a little further for people seeking this information.
Novstrup noted that he would “be willing to help draft and prime sponsor a bill for the 2017 legislative session, having worked closely with David Bordewyk and Justin Smith of the SD Newspaper Association. It would be my suggestion that we pick a state such as Nebraska or Iowa and pattern the bill after that chosen state.”
Expecting that Novstrup will be returned to the State Legislature in November with election to the State Senate, this might just be the beginnings of “Senate Bill 1” for January of 2017.