August 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Teacher Attendance Records Not Personnel Records for CORA Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Jefferson County Education Association v. Jefferson County School District R-1 on Thursday, January 14, 2016.

This case discussed whether a record of a teacher’s sick leave is part of the teacher’s personnel file for purposes of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). In September 2014, some teachers at four Jefferson County high schools engaged in a “sick out” to protest specific school board proposals, resulting in the schools closing for the day. In February 2015, a Jefferson County resident requested the names of all teachers who were sick on that specific day pursuant to CORA. The school district decided to release the records, but the Jefferson County Education Association, a teachers union, did not want the district to release the records.

The union filed a C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2) motion in the trial court, requesting that the court order the district to deny the CORA request. The union asked for mandamus relief, arguing the records were part of the teachers’ personnel files. The trial court ultimately denied the union’s motion but granted a stay pending appeal. On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals focused on whether defendants had a clear duty to withhold the records from the CORA request. The court determined that, in fact, the defendants had a clear duty to disclose the records under CORA. The court drew a distinction between the types of record expressly exempted from CORA, such as personal demographic information, and the requested records in this case. Because the teachers were public employees whose absence affected their jobs, and because their absence was conspicuous to the public, the court of appeals found that the records of the teachers’ absences were not contained in the exemption to CORA. Further, because the teachers were paid with public funds, and the sick days were paid days, the court found that the district’s records of the sick days were public records for CORA purposes.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.

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