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Tribune prevailed in records dispute cited in teacher discipline story

Published December 2, 2013 9:28 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes stories are more difficult — and costly — to report than it may appear.

The package on disciplinary actions against Utah teachers accused of wrongdoing is an example.

One anecdote in the story that appeared in Sunday's print edition and which is available online here in particular required doggedness on the part of reporter Bill Oram and The Tribune.

It took more than a year of litigation and eventually mediation for Oram to obtain student statements and partial phone records through Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act to determine what likely led to Cottonwood High School football coach Josh Lyman's May 30, 2012, resignation before a formal investigation was completed into allegations that the popular coach had inappropriate contact with a female student.

From the start, Oram and The Tribune pursued the records for a specific reason. Lacking a conclusive report or findings of fact in the case, we believed it was our job to learn as much as we could about the context of his departure and the case — arguably a matter of intense public interest.

The Utah State Records Committee ruled in The Tribune's favor in October 2012 after Granite School District denied Oram's request that it release records and The Tribune appealed the decision to the committee.

Granite appealed the committee's 3-2 decision and the matter eventually ended up in 3rd District Court, where The Tribune prevailed on a technical point.

The school district, however, still would not release the records, saying it was considering an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court before proposing mediation with state records ombudswoman Rosemary Cundiff.

Through mediation that took place in June, Granite agreed to release — with some redactions — the information cited in Sunday's story.

From the records, we learned Lyman and the female student first texted one another in November 2011. They exchanged 98 messages through Jan. 27, 2012, the final date of phone records provided by the student's family to the school district as part of the investigation. That day, the log documented 45 text messages between the two — 19 from Lyman's phone — with the first being sent at 4:56 a.m. by Lyman.

While the direct contents of the messages are unknown, in written statements from the student and other Cottonwood students, Lyman invited the student to his house in at least one of the text messages.

The student wrote in her statement, "I went because I didn't know what to do." She told district investigators that Lyman kissed her and, after she left, sent her a picture of him with his shirt off. The statements describe other inappropriate encounters as well.

We understand Granite's reluctance to release the records. Attorney Doug Larson argued their release would subject students compelled to give statements to further persecution by other students who blamed them for Lyman's resignation.

As with any records dispute, we knew our job was to carefully balance interests. In this case, we had to balance the public interest in complete disclosure about a trusted public employee's alleged misbehavior against students' right to privacy.

We believe we handled the matter in a respectful way.

We were able to answer questions many people had about the case.

In addition, we were able to protect the right all of us have to view records Utah law classifies as public.