At what point does the public’s right to know the facts outweigh a public servant’s right to privacy?
That is the question we are facing in the wake of the Plumas Unified School District board’s decision to dismiss a popular principal. The board voted in closed session March 7 to not renew Quincy High School Principal Dr. Sue Segura’s contract. The outcry from teachers, parents and students who vehemently support Segura has been loud and clear: It was wrong.
But, was it?
Did Segura fail to look after the welfare of students who weren’t athletic or didn’t get good grades, as some have suggested? Did she play favorites? Was she previously disciplined by the district for misconduct?
The answers are known by only Segura, the board members and the superintendent. But the result of keeping the information confidential is threatening to tear the school and community apart.
We at Feather Publishing believe this is an instance where the need for full disclosure trumps the right to keep the personnel file closed. Feather Publishing is preparing a written request to the school district for “any and all” disciplinary actions involving Dr. Segura. We are doing this so that the community can attain a complete understanding of the circumstances that led to the board’s decision.
There is precedent for our request: The California Supreme Court has held that “where the charges are found true, or discipline is imposed,” the strong public policy against disclosure vanishes. The courts said that with respect to high-level public servants (like a school principal) disclosure of an investigation into misconduct is required even if the charges are found not to be reliable and the official is exonerated. The public interest in understanding why and how the agency treated the accusations outweighs the official’s interest in keeping the allegations confidential.
It would be refreshing if both sides would consult their attorneys and prepare a joint statement: publish the facts for all of us to read. They do, after all, work for us.
Segura said she was surprised, stunned and felt numb after hearing the news. If there is a glaring misdeed tucked away in her personnel file, was she given any direction from the district to make improvements?
We rely on our superintendent and school board to look out for the best interests of our kids. And we have no reason to believe they aren’t doing what they feel is best for the students in Quincy. Segura has made myriad improvements on campus, including student accountability and in significantly improved test scores. Last year, she was named Administrator of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators. Despite these accomplishments, if Segura is indeed a liability to the district, then she shouldn’t be working here. If she has committed a violation worthy of dismissal, even her strong supporters would likely step back and accept the decision.
However, the board’s decision to let Segura go wasn’t unanimous. The 3-1-1 vote leaves room to speculate that perhaps the reason for her dismissal required further debate.
Right now, the debate in the community is fueled by rumors. Feather Publishing has received numerous calls, emails, faxes and personal visits from community members, on both sides of the issue, claiming to know what is going on.
If we believe everything we hear, Quincy High School looks like a snapshot of just about every other school in this country — complete with the problems and struggles that teenagers and their teachers everywhere are dealing with.
We want to believe that the school board truly has the students’ best interests in mind, and is basing its decision on facts.
But we would all feel much better if we were allowed to hear the facts ourselves.