Letter from CFOIC volunteer attorney wins release of teacher sick-out list

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

The Jefferson County School District has reversed an earlier decision to deny a parent’s request for the names of teachers at his daughter’s high school who collectively called in sick one day last September.

The district first rejected Kyle Walpole’s Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request on Sept. 22, claiming the information is off limits because it is contained in each employee’s personnel file.

Walpole then received an Oct. 8 letter from a Jeffco schools attorney, saying the list of Conifer High School teachers who called in sick on Sept. 19 can’t be disclosed because the records pertain to “confidential medical information” maintained because of an employer-employee relationship, although the district would provide a count of teachers who were absent that day.

But a letter in response from Katayoun Donnelly, a volunteer attorney for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, noted that Walpole wasn’t asking for any specific reasons the teachers took sick leave and that CORA only requires the withholding of “medical … data on individual persons.”

Donnelly also pointed out that Colorado courts have limited the definition of “medical records” to information subject to the physician-patient privilege, and that courts in other states have ruled that the disclosure of similar public employee sick-leave information does not constitute an invasion of privacy.

On Monday, Donnelly received an email from Jeffco school attorney Kristin Edgar saying the list requested by Walpole would be made available by the end of the week.

“As you know, the District initially denied this request,” Edgar wrote. “Without agreeing with your position, which is based on law from other jurisdictions, the District has decided to disclose the record that you have requested on behalf of Mr. Walpole…”

CORA does not require requesters to explain why they seek the release of public records. But Walpole said he asked for the list after most of his daughter’s classes and extra-curricular activities were cancelled because of the sick out.

“As a teacher, and also a taxpayer, I am concerned when teachers violate their contracts and fraudulently call in sick,” he said. “This cost the district and the taxpayers a tremendous amount of wasted school heating costs and personnel expenses. It is important to hold all accountable when they are, as I am, government employees with specific contracts addressing personal, professional and sick leave.”

Conifer and Standley Lake high schools were closed Sept. 19 after 50 educators called in sick or claimed personal days. Conifer teachers posted a news release on Facebook, saying they had taken collective action “to raise community awareness” of the Jeffco school board’s “unilateral decision making model.”

In particular, they expressed concerns about proposed changes to the district’s Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum and a teacher compensation proposal from the board, which has a conservative majority. Students in Jeffco also have walked out of classes in protest, focusing national attention on the district’s AP history controversy.

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