Fired principal files suit to keep records from public

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July 31, 2010
— A former Janesville school principal has filed a lawsuit to block the release of records that could explain why he was fired.

The Janesville Gazette requested documents relating to an investigation that the school district conducted after John Walczak was placed on administrative leave in May.

The lawsuit seeking to block the release was filed Wednesday in Rock County Court.

The former Jackson School principal states in the complaint that Superintendent Karen Schulte fired him in a letter he received July 17.

Schulte previously declined to discuss the circumstances of Walczak’s leaving the district.

Walczak also alleges in the complaint that the school district did not allow him to properly respond to complaints against him.

The lawsuit names the school district and Schulte as defendants. The Gazette will intervene and argue that the records should be released.

“This is a highly compensated, high-profile public employee, and as an elementary school principal, he had regular contact with teachers and students,” Gazette Editor Scott Angus said. “We believe the public has a right to know the reason he was fired, and we believe state law and previous court cases support our position.”

Walczak states in his complaint that Schulte placed him on administrative leave May 27 and told him that she had received complaints about him, Walczak states.

However, Schulte would not say what the complaints were about, Walczak states.

Walczak said district officials provided him no information about the complaints until June 30, when he received “a brief memorandum.”

The memo did not list names, dates or locations that would have allowed Walczak to properly respond, Walczak alleges.

Walczak states that he met with Angel Tullar, the district’s manager of employee relations, on July 7, “purportedly” to allow Walczak an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Tullar had conducted an investigation, interviewing every staff person at Jackson School, Schulte said previously.

At the July 7 meeting, the district’s attorney would not let Walczak ask any questions and told Tullar “not to clarify any of the prearranged questions for Walczak,” the lawsuit states.

“I feel totally confident that John was treated fairly, and I’m not at liberty to disclose any details,” Schulte said when asked Friday to comment on Walczak’s claims.

Walczak argues that the records should not be released because:

-- The district’s investigation was not properly completed because Walczak was not allowed to respond to the allegations “as required by district policy.”

-- State statutes bar the release of records relating to misconduct of an employee before the investigation is properly concluded.

-- “Schulte violated Walczak’s due process rights” by failing to give him timely and adequate notice of the complaints and not allowing him to properly respond.

-- The law requires a balancing test, weighing the public interest in protecting a person’s privacy and reputation against the public interest in disclosure of public records. Walczak argues that the former outweighs the latter before Walczak has an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

-- The release would cause “injury” to Walczak.

Judge Michael Fitzpatrick has been assigned to the case, and a scheduling conference is set for Monday. Michele Perreault of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens of Madison is representing Walczak. Duffy Dillon of Brennan, Steil & Basting is representing the Gazette.

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