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Post Episode 17: Education reporters investigate teacher retention, special education services and more

The education beat affects everyone in the country - from families to taxpayers. In this episode of Post, IRE Trainer and former education reporter Francisco Vara-Orta discusses some of his work.

COLUMBIA, Missouri – In Episode 17, Post takes a look at in-depth and investigative stories about education, primarily in the K-12 system.

The pieces of journalism explore systemic issues on the local and national levels – including teacher turnover rates, school board candidates being arrested but still eligible for office, and a state capping special education services to a set percentage of students.

News organizations represented include ProPublica, Education Week, the Tampa Bay Times, San Antonio Express-News, and the Houston Chronicle.

Francisco Vara-Orta, a trainer for IRE, joins the show to discuss some of his own previous reporting and weigh in on investigations done at other print and digital news outlets.

Throughout the episode, Vara-Orta describes how he conducted investigations, gives tips to newsrooms looking to explore their own communities’ education systems, and discusses challenges that are specific to the education beat.

“When you become an education reporter, you start to hear about two laws: One called HIPPA and the other called FERPA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the other one, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” Vara-Orta said. “Those have been around for a few decades, and it’s a way for educational institutions not just at K-12 levels, but also at higher education institutions, to deny you information and just kind of throw it out there as a blanket reason, or really an excuse. So the first thing you have to know is what is exempt and what is not.”

Vara-Orta says education-related records can be critical to telling compelling stories. He says it’s important for reporters to understand what is and is not covered under those two laws in order to write effective requests and fight for information.

“It’s really alarming and surprising how many institutions will want to hold back those records when we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, children. So you really have to know what you have the right to have access to and what you don’t,” Vara-Orta said.

LINKS to stories discussed in Post, Episode 17:

San Antonio Express – It’s harder for charter schools to keep teachers

Houston Chronicle – Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education

The Tampa Bay Times – Why Pinellas County is the worst place in Florida to be black and go to public school.

ProPublica and Education Week – Hate in Schools

Post is a media review program from InvestigateTV, Gray Television’s streaming channel dedicated to in-depth and watchdog reporting. Post is presented in partnership with the journalism organization Investigative Reporters and Editors. The monthly program is taped at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, a partner of InvestigateTV.

Episode written and produced by: Emma Ruby and Jamie Grey, InvestigateTV

Production by: Director Travis McMillen and assistants Grace Vance and Braden Kobeski, Reynolds Journalism Institute and University of Missouri

Editing by: Owen Hornstein, InvestigateTV