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PSS declines to release information regarding employees accused of sexual misconduct

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THE Public School System will not release records and documents of reported incidents of sexual misconduct, but it will comply with the attorney general’s investigation of these cases once it commences, PSS legal counsel Tiberius Mocanu said.

Through an Open Government Act request, Irene Holl, in her capacity as a private citizen, asked PSS to provide her access to all information relating to investigation of sexual misconduct allegedly committed by its employees.

“We’ve heard of instances of sexual misconduct taking place in our schools over the decades,” she said in her Aug. 12 letter to PSS. “Some of these have come to light more publicly than others, and usually we’ve come to hear that these incidents were addressed only through minor administrative action taken in lieu of what should have been criminal charges.  We’ve heard over the years of incidents involving many teachers and employees.”

Holl said very few of these cases led to legal action, but PSS meted out many administrative actions.

“We know that this practice has been going on for many decades with serious questions about the appropriateness of the punitive measures or lack of punitive measures taken in these cases by PSS,” she added.

In a phone interview, Holl said her concern for the safety of students is the primary reason why she is seeking the information.

“As a mother, I am curious about what PSS is doing with these cases. It is my responsibility, as a member of the community, to inquire what the government or PSS is doing,” she said, adding that the action of the school system is vital in assuring parents that their children are protected from sexual predators.

Among the former PSS employees she mentioned in her letter is a lawmaker.

“I heard stories that there were complaints of sexual misconduct. I want to find out if they are true.”

In her letter, she told PSS that a “serious inquiry will provide the public with the information they need to help ensure the children’s safety, and provide an opportunity for those alleged to have been involved in this kind of misconduct to clear their names, in the case that such allegations prove false. It is also important that there be an examination of PSS protocols involving allegations of sexual misconduct.”

In his reply dated Aug. 24, 2020, Mocanu said PSS is legally unable to provide Holl the information.

“PSS employees have a right to privacy under the CNMI Open Government Act and any personal information in their files other than their names, present and past position titles, grades, salaries and duty stations is considered exempt from [Open Government Act] requests,” the lawyer said.

He added that the information that Holl requested may identify current or past students. “This type of information is protected by both federal and state law,” he said.

The information may only be available to students involved or their parents as well as to a law enforcement agency or court, he added.

PSS takes allegations of sexual abuse of its students very seriously and looks forward to cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office in its investigation, Mocanu said. 

 

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