Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Patrick O'Neal
on November 27, 2017

Archiving and retention laws are continually evolving at both the state and federal levels. With that ever-changing landscape, it’s important to know the rules and regulations as well as specific mandates for your school district.

Organizations, including school districts, are being driven now, more than ever, by digital communication. We don't just see a trend towards more retention but an expectation. Seemingly countless regulations concerning K-12 message archiving can place a heavy burden on districts both large and small. The catch here is that if a school district chooses to ignore these because of the burden, they can face litigation or fines.

Fortunately, over the past ten years, there’s been a fair share of clarity through precedent and the court system. Email is only one small piece of electronically stored information (ESI). Increasingly, there’s an expectation from the courts that document files and even social media also get retained. Once again, the burden falls on the school district and retention is not enough. You must also be able to search and produce specific data just like we have for email for the past decade.

We see headlines almost every week about a harassment case that came from the use of social media in the workplace. Unfortunately, the only way to prosecute or hold the offending party accountable in these situations is to have unaltered evidence and unaltered data proving that the harassment took place. The best way to guarantee the integrity of that original post is to archive it right off the bat, free of an opportunity for manipulation.

When asked about archiving social media, our response typically centers on the content. Email tends to be black and white since there is an expectation that your staff uses school-provided email for business purposes only. However, with social media, it comes down to policy and what’s considered a record that you should retain. For example, a post of “It’s a beautiful day” might not need to be archived, but a parent post to your Facebook page of “My child is being bullied in the fourth period” should at least be considered for retention if not positively retained.

When creating a policy, consider broad strokes versus specific defining characteristics. So as a rule of thumb, you should retain all email for X amount of years, whatever your policy defines. However, the burden of retaining all social media communication is too extensive for almost any organization.

Therefore, you should define what constitutes a social media record that should be archived. For starters, consider the example I gave earlier: Where there’s a line in the sand between an innocuous post as opposed to one that relates to your day-to-day business.

The best approach is to create a policy that follows federal and your state’s law. Work with your legal counsel and shape policy to your district’s need. Then follow the policy that you create. If the courts see that you’re making an effort to retain ESI that you think is important and that your legal counsel has defined as necessary, you’re already moving a step in the right direction.

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