Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne) during the 2022 Budget Session at the Wyoming Capitol. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Spurred by constituent accounts of harassment and bullying by teachers and coaches, the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee debated Tuesday how to best hold K-12 employees accountable when they behave inappropriately with students.

“I think we have instances where we need to do a better job of looking out for the safety of our kids,” said Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne). “We need to figure out a better process so that parents and students have confidence in these institutions.”

Ellis proposed two pieces of draft legislation to address the issue. One bill would amend the Safe School and Climate Act to make clear that no person, including school and district employees, administrators and volunteers is exempt from district policies prohibiting “harassment, intimidation or bullying.” 

The other, more contentious draft bill, would open certain parts of K-12 personnel files to public inspection. 

Not the first time

Under current Wyoming Public Records Act law, personnel files are not considered public records. Ellis’s draft legislation would remove that exemption for certain components of school district employees’ personnel files.

This isn’t the first time the Legislature has considered expanding the public’s access to certain personnel records. In 2021, the Judiciary Committee sponsored a failed bill making the personnel files of high-ranking state employees public record.

The issue also came up when several Wyoming news organizations (including WyoFile) sued the University of Wyoming for personnel records related to the demotion of Laurie Nichols, the university’s former president. A district court judge ultimately ruled in favor of releasing the records to the press. 

In the draft K-12 personnel files bill, performance reviews, social security information and home addresses would still be considered protected, Ellis explained. “Investigations or disciplinary proceedings” that result in “substantiated allegations of professional misconduct,” however, would become public information under the proposal. 

Teacher pushback

Wyoming Education Association President Grady Hutcherson voiced concerns about the draft bill, noting that as a male second grade teacher “all it would take to destroy my career would be one false allegation. That’s all it would take.”

Hutcherson said while he was happy to work with lawmakers going forward, he thought “that with this initial draft bill, now, that false accusation can then just be moved to the press, regardless of what the outcomes of any investigation would have been.”

“What happens in the real world is people hear the accusation, but don’t accept the exoneration, because it’s easier to gossip about the allegation,” said WEA lobbyist Tate Mullen.

Mullen testified educators and support staff face unfounded allegations. He gave the example of a teacher touching a distracted kid’s shoulder in a lunch line and asking the student to “keep the line moving.” Mullen said a parent could lodge a complaint against the teacher for “sexual touching.” 

Even if the teacher was ultimately exonerated, the complaint would remain on their public record if the proposed measure became law, Mullen said. 

Privacy balance

Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) agreed it was an important issue to address but also noted the Legislature needed to balance “protecting people’s privacy and keeping unfounded allegations from getting out into the general public and doing considerable damage when somebody is falsely accused.”

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper)

“I don’t want false allegations to mean somebody loses their job,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie). She suggested one potential solution would be to make disciplinary outcomes available to the public rather than just a procedure or investigation that was ultimately dismissed. 

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said he did not want to single out educators alone, and felt it would be more appropriate for the judiciary committee to tackle the topic and “figure out how to create a universal appropriate exemption for where there is a chronic or habitual offender, and they’re being protected by their personnel records and that needs to be publicized.”

Ellis noted her draft bills still required additional work, but wanted to get initial conversations on the topic started. 

The committee ultimately decided to continue discussions of the two proposed bills when it meets next in Cheyenne on Oct. 10. 

Sofia Jeremias

Sofia Jeremias reports on healthcare, education and the economy in Wyoming. She received her master's degree from the Columbia Journalism School and previously reported on the West for Deseret News.

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  1. Fix the issue by simply going back to teaching the 3R’s. More PhD”s a system hires and gets in the system the more left education gets. Cut PhD’s. Pav teachers to teach. Leave all the LBGTQ CRAP for parents to handle. Teaching needs to stay out of politics. Completely out. Cut the Tenureture out. You have to be able to hire and fire. This is all simple to fix. School boards need to cut the political crap out as well. Maybe school boards time has came time to pass into better system as well

  2. Another pickle.
    How do you screen bad people if you can’t agree on a definition? How can you agree on a definition when the left changes them on a dime?
    Democrats will scream if you try to judge any action by a leftist teacher. Note the knee-jerk reference in a comment to a teacher making a face over Trump.
    If your politics affect your teaching, quit. Quit now. You are not a teacher. You are a politician. If you have a rainbow flag in your class, you better be teaching about the Inca Empire. If you are teaching about slavery, you better be honest and make sure the students know the Democrats owned slaves and the Republicans didn’t. Honesty is the number one criteria. Teachers coming out of universities today should be questioned and they should be on probation. Note that the left will condemn this comment out of sheer arrogance. They have no solution.

  3. I graduated from UW in 1980 with a degree in HR. Really before HR was a thing. I was in the profession for 30 years. All I have to say is this is wrong, wrong, wrong. These things need to be handled by professionals and not by a bunch of Parents. Parents screw up the system more than they help it.

    1. I totally agree with John Abas that this is WRONG WRONG WRONG. Plus — is there not a statement in teacher’s contracts that prohibits harassment, intimidation and bullying –then put it in their contract — easy and problem solved. Lastly — the school administration and education reps should manage complaints against teachers in a methodical fact gathering process.

  4. I would urge any legislators that have a say in this debate about opening teacher’s personnel files, to review the daycare center allegations of the 80’s and 90’s such as the McMartin Preschool allegations of Satanic abuse and the immense pain and suffering the false accusations caused.

  5. People are not going to want to teach if we keep adding negatives. Already recruitment for well qualified teachers is very difficult. Further, why single out teachers and make them more open to public scrutiny than other state employees? Wyoming has a lot of pressing issues. I’m not so sure bad teachers is at the top of anyone’s list.

  6. What if a teacher made a remark supportive of gays or tried to teach Black history or God forbid screwed up her face into an expression of outraged disgust and fury at the mention of Trump? And it ended up in her record?

  7. Maybe the personnel files for our legislators should be opened up. Let’s see if they walk the walk.

  8. As if there were not already enough reasons to not want to be a teacher the legislature is thinking go adding another reason.