In setting off a firestorm of allegations of sexual misconduct against Santa Clara City Council Member and high school civics teacher Dominic Caserta, an as-yet unnamed Santa Clara Unified School District employee also publicized the names of the students who made the 2002 and 2009 complaints, putting the young women involuntarily in the center of the media circus as well.
None of the information in the records was redacted, recipient of the records told the Weekly.
Further, San José Inside’s Jennifer Wadsworth sent the records to at least one former Caserta endorser, asking for comments.
The Weekly also asked several district employees for copies and was told that they did in-fact receive the emails but didn’t read them and had deleted them.
School Board Members declined to speak on the record and referred questions to Andrew Lucia, Santa Clara Unified Assistant Superintendent, School Support and District Development.
The mass mailing of confidential personnel records to 1,600 district employees and the press was an error, said Lucia. “It was a mistake,” he said, adding, “We’re taking steps to ensure employee records are secure.”
Santa Clara United Teachers President Michael Hickey said he was “disappointed and concerned” about the seemingly casual disclosure of confidential records.
“It’s a violation of our contract, a violation of California law … and a transgression of protocol and policies,” said Hickey. “It concerns all our members that personnel records are being released. It’s a violation against all school district employees.”
Neither Lucia nor Hickey would speak about the allegations against Caserta.
“The process for investigating such accusations is methodical and detailed,” said Hickey. “As teachers in public schools, we’re in the spotlight. Sometimes accusations are made against our members and they’re exonerated. Those [proceedings and decisions] are kept confidential.”
With respect to the employee who lit the flame by hitting “Send,” the district “can’t speak specifically about it,” said Lucia “due to confidentiality issues” and the need for due process and proper investigation.
“I would expect the district to find out what went wrong and to fix it,” said Hickey. “There has to be appropriate action to prevent this from happening again.”
The leak of these records are not only damning to Caserta—as seen media reports and press releases from City Hall—but have alarming consequences to the students who are included in the records.
The California Public Records Act specifically exempts personnel records from disclosure requirements. However, courts balance the individual’s right to privacy with the public interest at stake.
In a 2012 lawsuit pitting employee privacy rights against the public’s right to know—Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District—an appeals court ruled that public employees had the right to sue to prevent disclosure of private personnel information in response to Public Records Act (PRA) requests—called reverse PRA lawsuits.
However, the court also upheld the lower court’s ruling that “the public has a significant interest in knowing how a school district responds to allegations of misconduct or improper behavior towards students by teachers,” despite the fact that no charges were filed against the employee.
When the Weekly requested copies of the now public records, the district replied: “Your request has been forwarded to the appropriate department for review to verify whether your request is reportable. Based on law, we will advise you within 10 days from receipt of your request if these items are reportable or not.”
Regardless of whether or not records are exempt, disclosure of an exempt record constitutes a waiver of that record’s exemption for all requestors.