Editor column: Records quest continues in Cottonwood coach case
For Granite School District, the story ended May 30 with Cottonwood High School football coach Josh Lyman's resignation.
On that date, the district ended its probe into allegations the coach who also taught physical education had inappropriate contact with a female student. Granite therefore produced no formal report about the allegations. Separately, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office determined Lyman would face no criminal charges.
The Salt Lake Tribune, however, is not yet ready to concede the story is over. Lacking a conclusive report or findings of fact in the case, we believe it's our job to learn as much as we can about the context of Lyman's resignation and the case, which is arguably a matter of intense public interest.
That's why our quest for records created during the investigation continues, nearly five months after Granite closed the case.
"We want the full context so we can review and consider whether there is more to the story," reporter Bill Oram told the State Records Committee at a Thursday hearing on whether Granite must release student statements and text messages under Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act.
The committee ultimately determined The Tribune and the public at large are entitled to all but one of the records, a statement committee members said too easily may identify the student. Granite has 30 days to appeal the 3-2 ruling.
Oram recognizes the records he seeks are sensitive, and their sensitivity has been a primary reason Granite so far has opted not to release them.
Attorney Doug Larson argued Thursday their release would subject students who were compelled to give statements to further persecution by other students who blamed them for the popular coach's resignation.
"Our fear is it would dredge up an old story that could lead to further recriminations," he told the records committee.
Larson believes the records are protected under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits the release of student grades and behavior records without written consent.
There is disagreement, however, about whether investigative records generated by a police agency in this case the Granite district police force are protected.
Three voting members of the committee ruled they aren't protected, and The Tribune agrees.
As with any records dispute, we know the discussion is about balancing interests. In this case, we're balancing the public interest in complete disclosure about a trusted public employee's alleged misbehavior against students' right to privacy.
It's important to note that students' names would be redacted from all records, and Oram emphasizes he would treat them as the sensitive documents they are.
"At the end of the day, we believe we can do this in a healthy, appropriate, respectful way," he told the committee.
With the records in hand, we may choose do another story, or not, depending on what we learn.
But we maintain, as always, that we have a right and must protect your right to view records the law classifies as public.
Lisa Carricaburu is a managing editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu.
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