Chronicle reporter Whitney Bermes recently filed a request under Montana’s open records law to obtain documents from the Gallatin Gateway School District regarding a teacher’s resignation.
Bermes learned about an investigation involving the teacher after checking civil court filings in Gallatin County District Court, a routine part of her public records checks. From there, Bermes made an open records request with the school district and called the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Bermes was able to obtain documents stating School Board trustees say the former Gallatin Gateway teacher resigned after giving a 15-year-old girl alcohol and kissing her. She also learned that the state is investigating the teacher to decide whether he should have a teacher’s license. Her full story can be read here.
This is one example of how the Chronicle continues to fight for open records and the public’s right to know. If we didn’t, this story and many others would never come to light.
We make open records requests regularly. In recent years, we have hired attorneys to fight for documents we believe are public.
Public institutions such as schools and governments must be held accountable. Readers have the right to know what they’re doing.
No one else – TV stations, radio stations or bloggers – fight for the public’s right to know the way newspaper reporters do. No one else fights for the public in our courtrooms.
Our reporters mine through data, pages of documents, lawsuits and government budgets all the time to find stories such as the one involving the Gallatin Gateway teacher. They make open records requests, file for confidential criminal justice information or request the help of an attorney to dig further.
We believe that’s part of our job. We strive to provide that kind of reporting. And we do it better than anyone else. No one else around here is doing that kind of journalism.
In the Gallatin Gateway teacher’s case, the public’s right to know outweighed the teacher’s right to privacy. The teacher was a public employee working for a public school district. The teacher was in a position of public trust. The public has the right to know about any investigation into his conduct.
We also didn’t release any identifying information about the student involved in the investigation. We protected the student’s identity.
The Montana courts also have confirmed the public’s right to know regarding teacher conduct. The Chronicle and Belgrade News have recently obtained similar records related to a former Montana State University professor and a Manhattan teacher, respectively.
One final point: The open records law also protects the innocent and accused from aggressive investigations or prosecutions. It is a check on the government and helps prevent corruption.
When the government’s business is aired in public, everyone wins.
- Ted Sullivan