SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — WREG is working to get to the bottom of why Shelby County Schools’ documents don’t reflect a previous investigation surrounding some serious claims.
Any time someone steps into a leadership role, especially one that’s dealing with your children, WREG investigates them.
So we did so for Dr. Joris Ray, SCS’s new interim superintendent.
WREG sent a request for all of his files on February 21, 2019. That information is open to the public by Tennessee law.
University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy explains.
“Any official document that is generated by a governmental entity pursuant to governmental business is open for inspection. It must be available to the public upon request,” he said.
The district’s legal team didn’t get back to us until April 4. They only sent Dr. Ray’s personnel file, which the legal team has said includes, “all the hiring and transfer information.”
In the past when WREG has requested other SCS files, especially for those employees who worked in the district for a long time, we also received a labor file, which holds things like “disciplinary records, etc.”
WREG emailed the legal assistant to confirm we got all of the files.
She responded, “Yes. There is no labor file.”
To triple check, we sent in another open records request that same day. This time rewording it.
Instead of asking for “all files,” we asked for “a copy of any files, documents, disciplinary actions or complaints related to Dr. Ray.”
Sixteen days later SCS emailed us a report outlining an investigation into Dr. Ray accusing him of sexual harassment. It shows that last fall an outside law firm looked into it and determined it was unfounded.
So why didn’t SCS send these documents or any trace of that investigation when we asked for all files for Dr. Ray back in February?
“If we are going to have a transparent government, if we are going to have a functioning democracy, we have to find out what’s really going on. Sometimes the only way to do that is examine these documents,” said Mulroy.
On Monday we received a statement from SCS stating, “As a standard practice, investigations or allegations are not included in any employee`s file unless a disciplinary action arises as a result of such investigation. In those cases, only the disciplinary letter is included in the file.”
But that doesn’t appear to be the standard practice, because SCS sent us a teacher’s file just last month including details of a misconduct investigation, emails about it and then a form stating it was found unsubstantiated.
SCS got back to us late Monday with another statement.
“For clarity, the [teacher] file you are referring to was investigated internally. When matters are investigated externally, there are different processes that are followed regarding the housing of a file.
There are several factors that may become apparent upon receipt or during the course of investigating a complaint that may also determine the best course of action in ensuring a thorough, fair and impartial investigation into the complaint. Those factors vary and include, but are not limited to, the nature of the complaint, the multiplicity of similar complaints, any legal implications that may impact employees beyond the scope of the investigation, and the sensitivity of the allegations. When some or all of these factors exist, SCBE may escalate a matter to the legal department for handling in order to preserve the integrity of the matter’s investigation until it is concluded.”