Q: Is a principal’s email to a teacher regarding a parent’s complaint public information? Can we withhold a principal’s email to a teacher regarding a parent complaint from public release?
A: Whether or not a principal’s email to a teacher about a parent complaint is subject to disclosure from a public information request depends on the topic and nature of the email. Like all electronic documents, how an email is treated with regard to retention, filing, and confidentiality is determined by the content.
By definition, all district documents—including electronic ones created or received by a local government or any of its officers or employees—are public information unless a specific exception permits the school district to withhold the information. If an email from the principal to the teacher simply advises the teacher there has been a parent complaint, it may be released.
On the other hand, if the email addresses the teacher’s performance’, the email, like all teacher evaluation information, is confidential. Additionally, if the email contains personally identifiable information about a minor student, it’s covered under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These records are generally considered confidential and may not be released without parental permission or because of other specific exemptions. For more information about FERPA, visit the U.S. Department of Education website.
When a district decides not to release a document, procedures for withholding information must be followed, including identifying if the district has a previous determination on file. If the information is withheld under a previous determination, the district must provide the requestor with a statement of the information withheld and the basis for withholding. If the district wishes to withhold the information, and there’s no previous determination, it should calculate and track the deadline to seek an attorney general decision and consult local counsel.
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