School districts and their employees have legitimate rights to privacy, but parents, teachers, and the community at large also have legitimate rights to information under certain extraordinary circumstances. The abuse allegations lodged against Scott Muir when he was working as a student center support coordinator in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District would qualify as extraordinary circumstances but the rights of the public at large haven’t been addressed.
The district has denied the Eagle’s request for records of its 2004 investigation into allegations lodged against Mr. Muir. He was not charged at the time but now faces charges involving rape and indecent assault on a child under 14 in connection with the same students of eight years ago and a third who came forward in March. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In rejecting The Eagle’s request, the district cited a 2000 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling that stood by the state Legislature’s determination that personnel files and information should be ex empt from the Public Records Law. This ex emption is far too broad and should be revisited by the Legislature. If information in cases that affect the community at large and parents and students in particular is exempted from the Public Records Law a huge disservice to the public is done, and it is done by a legislative body that should be encouraging transparency not secrecy.
In a May 1 letter to the editor, BHRSD School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon wrote that "standard precautionary measures were maintained" after the 2004 allegations, but those measures supposedly can’t be described to The Eagle because that would entail comment on personnel matters. The district must strike a balance between its real privacy concerns and the necessity to be open with a concerned community.