Board gets guidance on employee records

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, September 6, 2007

By Staff
Attorney: Real issue ‘here is a trust issue’
Staff Writer
Allison Schafer, lead attorney for the N.C. School Boards Association, during a meeting with the Beaufort County Board of Education on Wednesday, told board members that difficulties over their access to personnel records of school-system employees is basically a “trust issue.”
Board member Teressa Banks said she should have access to personnel files because she is “legally charged with oversight of the superintendent,” who, according to Banks, denied her access to an employee’s file but granted the same privilege to another board member.
Superintendent Jeff Moss said his decision to grant or deny board members access to employee files was based on whether or not the matter would return to the full board for consideration.
Schafer said the board should decide as a whole how to interpret the statute governing access to employee files, calling it a “policy issue.”
The board’s policy allows disclosure of employee files to the superintendent, the board’s attorney “when conducting board business,” to the “members of the Board of Education, while sitting as a whole, if the examination of a particular file relates to the duties and responsibilities of the Board,” and to “individual board members with the approval of the whole board.”
Schafer said determining when access to a file is needed to complete those duties is what the board would have to decide and they should not leave that decision up to Moss.
Banks countered that although an appeal process is available to school employees, “intimidation and fear of retaliation” may keep them from using it.
But there are situations where viewing a personnel file could land board members in trouble, according to Schafer.
When considering matters of teacher dismissal — where the party under scrutiny has a legal right to a hearing before the board — any board member having prior knowledge of the claims against the employee would not legally be able to sit during the hearing, Schafer said. Giving board members access to personnel files in that instance could put them in a position of being criminally liable, she said.
Schafer said board members’ duties pertaining to hiring an employee provide an argument in favor of disclosure.