Findings of secret investigation in Bethlehem Area School District will stay under wraps, board president says
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A month into the Bethlehem Area School Board’s secret investigation into an incident involving the superintendent, board President Michael Faccinetto says the findings will not be made public.
- The Bethlehem Area School Board president says findings from a secret probe underway will not be made public
- He said personnel files are not public documents
- A Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association attorney says the school board could release the findings but are choosing not to
The board in November approved hiring retired Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano to conduct an investigation "involving the Bethlehem Area School District," according to the agreement letter from Giordano. The district will pay him $495 per hour.
Faccinetto said the work product Giordano will produce will be a personnel file and “personnel files are not public documents.”
Melissa Melewsky, in-house counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said that’s an incorrect reading of the law.
She said parts of personnel files that are public include names, salary, length of employment, and dates of hire and separation. She added that the investigative findings from Giordano can be released if the school board or district wants to do that.
"The law doesn’t make this report confidential. It allows the school district to deny access to this type of record if they want to, but it doesn’t require them to do it.”Melissa Melewsky, in-house counsel for Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association
The law doesn’t make this report confidential,” she said. “It allows the school district to deny access to this type of record if they want to, but it doesn’t require them to do it.”
Exactly what Giordano is investigating remains unclear. In an email to LehighValleyNews.com on Nov. 6, Faccinetto said the board was aware of "the incident and was conducting an investigation," when asked about an alleged incident between Superintendent Joseph Roy and a district employee.
Roy confirmed in November what he described as “a specific, unfounded allegation” about him, and said he was working with the school district’s solicitor to address it. He said rumors he planned to resign were false.
State law defines a personnel file as including documents such as employment applications, wage information, job title, retirement records and performance reviews. It does not include records relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense, letters of reference, and documents being developed for use in civil, criminal or grievance procedures.
The work product Giordano will produce as well as other parts of personnel files are presumed public records unless they fall under one of the exemptions allowed under state law, Melewsky said. Some of those exemptions include written criticisms of the employee, grievance material that can include documents related to discrimination or sexual harassment, and information regarding discipline.
Giordano said in an email to LehighValleyNews.com that he will give the board a report or personnel file, depending on what they request. He did not respond to a question about whether such a file to the school board would contain documents related to an investigation of a possible criminal offense, or documents that were developed for use in civil, criminal or grievance procedures.
Melewsky said the state’s Sunshine Act allows officials to conceal information from members of the public unless they decide to release some or all of the records.
“Pennsylvania’s law makes it very difficult to hold public employees accountable for misconduct because you don’t get access to the records,” she said. “The law doesn’t mandate access.”
Faccinetto said this week he still does not have a timeline for when the investigation will conclude. Giordano said in a letter when he agreed to conduct the investigation that he would issue the school district periodic statements monthly.
The district’s Right-to-Know officer said in an email that the school district had not yet been billed by Giordano.