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From the editor: Facts behind resignation reported once we knew

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columns Fargo, 58102
Fargo ND 101 5th Street North 58102

On the cover of today's Metro/State section of The Forum is a story about an internal investigation that led to the July resignation of the former Detroit Lakes High School principal.

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So why is The Forum publishing the story in March?

We didn't know about the investigation until late January. Once we learned of it, it took time to get it from the school district and conduct the appropriate interviews.

The former principal and other stakeholders urged us to not run the story for various reasons, but mostly because more than half a year has elapsed since the resignation.

When the longtime principal resigned in late July, it was reported elsewhere that no reasons were given by the principal or superintendent and the school board asked no public questions of either.

Until rather recently, this kind of conclusion was pretty common when it came to sudden resignations in Minnesota schools.

The public was largely uninformed because provisions in the state's Data Privacy Act made it possible for investigations or acts of wrongdoing by public school employees to remain private if the employee resigned before being fired.

Schools often encouraged forced resignations to keep the matters private.

But prompted by public outcry over a quietly orchestrated quarter-million-dollar payout to a Twin Cities-area school official who resigned before being fired, the Minnesota Legislature finally amended some of the law in 2012.

Now, when some higher-ranking school officials resign before being fired, the matters that led to their ouster can be learned.

Those eligible for that newfound scrutiny include principals, superintendents, athletic directors, business managers and human resource directors.

Minnesota teachers can still resign before being fired and the public likely won't know what led to it.

North Dakota public employees, including teachers, don't enjoy those same protections. In North Dakota, correspondence conducted by public employees is considered public.

Minnesota's reasons for keeping many personnel records private unless discipline is meted out are grounded in the idea that public employees should not have accusations aired unless they are proven true.

It's that classic conundrum of balancing the right to privacy with the right of the public to know.

In the case of the former Detroit Lakes principal, an investigation led to his resignation, and Minnesota law now states that investigation should be public.

Had we known earlier, we would have reported it earlier.

Still, we think the public has a right to know.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579, mvonpinnon@forumcomm.com or on Twitter @inforumed

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