The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld a public-records request by a teachers’ union president for the names of replacement teachers who served during a strike.
Over a sharp dissent, the state’s highest court ruled 5-2 that there was little evidence that any threat of harm remained for the replacements who worked during the nearly two-month strike in 2013 in the 6,200-student Strongsville City School District.
During the strike, the replacement teachers faced harassment and intimidation, court papers say. A crowd of 75 to 100 people jeered the replacements as they applied for positions, they found notes with offensive images in their classrooms, and the strikers’ union, the Strongsville Education Association, posted a “wall of shame” on its Web site identifying some of them.
One striking teacher was arrested and charged with reckless driving for allegedly cutting off a van transporting replacement teachers, the court papers say.
Even during the strike, lawyers representing David Quolke, the president of the Cleveland Teachers Union (which apparently wasn’t directly involved in the strike), sought the names and other information about the replacements.
The Strongsville district resisted, and Quolke sued in state court. A state appeals court ordered the release of the names, plus some $8,000 in legal fees for Quolke.
In its March 25 decision in State ex. rel. Quolke v. Strongsville City School District, the state supreme court upheld the lower court. The majority distinguished the replacement teachers’ situation from that of police officers who were in a shootout with gang members, in which the state high court ruled against a newspaper seeking disclosure of the officers’ names.
While it was proper for the district to withhold the replacements’ names during the strike, the threats had receded once it was over, the court said.
“The court of appeals did not abuse its discretion by holding that the danger of retaliation or physical harm to the replacement teachers had receded at the time that it made its decision and that the board is now obligated to produce the relevant documents with the teachers’ names unredacted,” the state high court said.
The dissenters said, “Teachers have no less of an interest than police officers in preventing the release of private information when disclosure would create a substantial risk of serious bodily harm from a perceived likely threat.”
“The passage of a few months after the strike does not permit the inference that the risks of disclosure have diminished nor does a lack of new incidents adequately consider the nature of the animosity that existed between the former strikers and the replacement teachers,” the dissent added.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.