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Although corporal punishment is permitted in Arkansas schools, the name of a principal who paddled a 13-year-old student may be listed on a state register of suspected child abusers, the Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled.

The 5-to-2 ruling this month overturned a circuit-court order to remove the name of John Heath, the principal of Marion (Ark.) Junior High School, from a list of possible child abusers maintained by the state department of human services.

After the paddling, Mr. Heath was reported to the human-services department, whose investigators found evidence of possible child abuse.

The principal appealed that finding, contending that the listing violated his rights to due process, equal protection under the law, and privacy.

A circuit court found the abuse charge unsubstantiated and ordered Mr. Heath's name removed from the register.

The supreme court found, however, that the department had no legal right to alter its records until Mr. Heath's name has been on the list for three years without further incident, after which time it would automatically be removed.

The high court also concluded that the possible injury to Mr. Heath's reputation does not violate Mr. Heath's right to due process, nor does listing his name on the state registry constitute an invasion of privacy.

Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin issued a dissenting opinion, calling the majority ruling a "hollow victory'' for Mr. Heath.

"He is declared innocent of child abuse in our state court system, which utilized concepts of due process, but is still forced for three years to carry the label of child abuser by an administrative agency of the state acting under the auspices of the state legislature,'' Judge Corbin wrote.

Mr. Heath, who remains principal of the school, said last week that he had not decided whether to appeal the ruling. He contends that the allegations stemmed from his criticism of a local human-services official for not investigating possible child-abuse cases that Mr. Heath had reported.

The Vermont Supreme Court has overturned a lower-court decision barring citizens access to transcripts of a meeting of the Bellows Falls school board.

In 1990, the school board refused to allow citizens to read transcripts of grievance proceedings requested by three teachers. The teachers filed the grievance after one was disciplined by the board for sending a letter to high school parents protesting cuts in the school's athletic budget.

The plaintiffs charged that the board's action violated Vermont's open-meetings laws.

A state superior court ruled that the documents were part of a disciplinary action, and thus were exempt from the open-meetings law.

In its ruling this month, however, the state high court endorsed a liberal interpretation of the law, citing the state constitution, which describes government officers as " 'trustees and servants' of the people ... 'at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.' ''

The high court remanded the case to the Windham Superior Court to determine which, if any, of the documents in the grievance file should be withheld from the public.

Vol. 12, Issue 25

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