The Madison School District has agreed to terms for releasing more than 1,000 sick notes submitted by teachers who missed work in February during mass protests over collective bargaining.
The district will remove the teachers’ names and other identifying information from the notes, under an agreement reached Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal, which requested the records under the state’s Open Records Law.
“It’s essentially what we asked for in May,” State Journal Editor John Smalley said Tuesday. “It was never our intention to publish any names or individual situations, but to look at the collective situation of all of these sick notes and how the district as an institution handled it.”
School Board President James Howard said the agreement protects teachers while complying with the newspaper’s needs and a Nov. 21 court ruling ordering the district to turn over the notes. The newspaper sued the district for the records after the district denied requests for them.
Many friends of mine are upset with the legal battle the Wisconsin State Journal waged to obtain the 1,000 sick notes Madison teachers used to get off work during the union protests in February. My own radio host and boss, Kurt Baron, referred to the paper as the “Wisconsin State Urinal” in describing his decision to no longer have the paper as his home page online. Some called into the show and promised to cancel their subscriptions.
Teachers should have a right to individual privacy over their medical records. We shouldn’t know whether John Q. cited herpes or hemorrhoids on his doctor’s note.
I am less sympathetic, however, to the teachers’ right to collective privacy. As long as their names are redacted, the public has the right to know if 273 teachers cited malaria and 345 claimed to suffer from ebola.
Unfortunately the recent ruling will violate individual privacy by allowing the State Journal to see the names of the teachers on the sick notes.