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.
Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that the district violated the law by issuing a blanket denial to the records requests rather than reviewing each note individually.
The district had argued that the notes contain medically sensitive information and would cause "embarrassment and annoyance" to teachers.
Madison Teachers Inc. union executive director John Matthews declined to comment Tuesday. MTI last week filed a motion to intervene in the case — after the ruling by Colas.
The agreement approved Monday night by Smalley and the school board calls for a Dec. 7 release of the notes.
The district agreed not to appeal the judge's ruling, under which the district is responsible for the State Journal's legal costs, an estimated $20,000 to $25,000, said April Barker, a lawyer for the newspaper.
Madison schools were closed for four days as teachers attended protests of Gov. Scott Walker's rollback of collective bargaining by public workers. Teachers who called in sick were required to submit doctor notes. Those who didn't were docked pay.
Of the 1,769 teachers who took one or more days off without an excuse, 84 handed in notes that the district refused to honor because they apparently had been distributed by doctors at the protests. Of those, 38 were suspended when they failed to rescind the notes. Overall, the district received more than 1,000 notes, but not all teachers who missed work submitted one.
The State Journal filed the lawsuit in June after the district refused a request for the notes, and a revised request for the notes with teachers' names removed.
Smalley said that until the notes are evaluated it remains unknown what story, if any, will be written, but it's part of the newspaper's responsibility as a watchdog to examine government actions and hold officials accountable.
"When school gets shut down for four days, that's a big story," Smalley said.