In education, there’s this idea that you have to archive, which often is followed by a lot of confusion and hesitation around how long you need to retain email.
The first question that comes up often has to do with student records, which GARP (Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles) and just about any statute says must be maintained in a specific repository. In most cases, student records are held with the respective state archives for 99 years, or forever, in a myriad of different ways.
As long as student records are in the place where they belong, your email archive is not where they need to be held. Decades ago, a teacher would write a report, it would go to the principal, and get put in the student’s permanent file. In today’s day and age, the teacher can send an email to the principal, but it doesn’t change that the email needs to go into the repository for the student record.
If you think that you’re just going to archive your email forever because it might include student records, the better option is to create a retention policy that properly maintains student records in the systems or places where they really belong.
On the flip side, the other trend is to have a repository, but no archive, because then you never have to produce anything, including fulfilling electronic discovery (eDiscovery) requests. However, the trend in court cases is that the courts understand that archives are relatively inexpensive and, the fact that you don’t have an archive, won’t allow you to avoid eDiscovery. In other words, saying, “I don’t have a retention period” is probably not a good bet for the future.
So, where do you start? Here are four questions to ask when establishing a retention policy for your email archive.
Who are you archiving?
A retention policy doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. You can archive your school board for a different period of time, your administration for another, than your teachers, than your students.
What are the requirements of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in your state?
Consider the timeframes for each of the groups mentioned earlier. For example, your board and administration are likely going to be subject to FOIA requests. Therefore, if your state says a FOIA request can go back two years, your retention period should probably be for at least that amount of time.
What are the common statutes of limitations for different types of legal action?
Whether it’s the ability of a parent to bring legal action, a community member to bring suit for misappropriation of funds, or something as simple as a slip and fall in a building, if the normal statute of limitation for most logical lawsuits that could be brought against the district is three years, consider that amount of time for your retention period.
What is stated in employee contracts and agreements?
Consider union contracts and other covenants because, oftentimes, they will provide contractual rights and remedies that will supersede statutes. If your union contract enables an employee to bring a wrongful discharge claim up to four years after being let go, a three-year retention policy is a recipe for disaster because that individual will, in all likelihood, file that suit 30 days after the retention period expires.
Too often, when administrators and school boards start looking at a retention policy, they only look at one part of the equation. By asking yourself these questions, you should be able to come up with a retention policy that meets the objectives of your entire district.