Balancing Teacher Privacy with the Public's Right to Know: Bellevue John Does v. Bellevue School District No. 405 and Public Access to Reports of Teacher Sexual Misconduct

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Education Law Reporter


teachers, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, privacy


Whether investigations of alleged teacher sexual misconduct are conducted by school officials, law enforcement, or social services, THE ISSUE DIscussed in this article is the extent to which members of the public, including media and parents, are entitled to know the names of teachers against whom allegations of sexual misconduct have been made. The issue is complicated by the fact that, while some investigations can result in a finding of teacher sexual misconduct, most either find the charges as false or unsubstantiated for lack of evidence. The Supreme Court of Washington's recent decision in Bellevue John Does v. Bellevue School District No. 405 (Bellevue) addresses whether these investigations conducted by school officials are adequate for finding and punishing abusive teachers, and if not, whether that inadequacy will result in “[school] children ... continu[ing] to suffer at [the] hands [of predatory teachers.]” Whether the names of all teachers against whom charges of sexual misconduct have been made, regardless of the outcome of investigations, should be revealed presents a difficult balancing question between a teacher's privacy interest in his or her identity and the public's interest in schools that are free from sexual misconduct of publicly paid teachers. The majority and dissenting opinions in Bellevue present dramatically different perspectives as to the appropriateness of teacher sexual misconduct investigations by school officials and as to whether teachers should have any privacy interests regarding conduct that occurs during their employment responsibilities.


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