Caught in the Crossfire: What’s Driving Public Records Requests in Education?

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Does this sound like what you’re dealing with in your school district?

  • You’re processing increased complex information requests—FOIA, FERPA, subpoenas, and more.
  • You’re getting records requests about education hot button issues from the media, parents, political groups, and concerned citizens.
  • You’re taking attention away from your core job duties to fill these requests.

You’re not alone. School districts have become targets in the nation’s broader “culture wars,” and those processing records requests are caught in the crossfire.

In this blog, we’ll explore what’s driving this spike in records requests in education—and what districts can do to meet the demands.

1. Policies and Procedures

Schools are tasked with the responsibility to provide a safe and secure learning environment for students while helping them reach their educational goals.

Stakeholders request information about topics including:

Curriculum. Parents increasingly want to understand and have a voice in what their children are being taught.

Safety policies. Parents and community members understandably need reassurance that districts are prepared to protect children and staff.

2. Budgets and Spending

School budgets and expenditures are always high interest. But school districts are currently experiencing increased curiosity and scrutiny. For instance, at Fairfax Country Public Schools, two parents filed open records request about school board spending that generated 1,300 pages of responsive records.

Issues piquing interest in budgets include:

COVID-era funding. Schools received pandemic stimulus funds to upgrade equipment and fulfill deferred compensation increases. The public wants to know how this funding was used.

Vouchers. One facet of the “school choice” movement concerns how districts use funds. In some instances, vouchers allow parents to use public funds to pay their students’ tuition at private schools.

Budget shortfalls. Districts are facing budget shortfalls because of inflation and declining enrollment. These shortfalls have sometimes prompted massive reorganizations and even school closures.

3. Email Records Requests

The use of email as a preferred communication method poses some difficulty when processing records requests. For example, when school officials use email to conduct business, it becomes subject to FOIA. This has led to requests for “any and all” emails related to specific topics. These can be time- and labor-intensive to fill.

In addition to open records, emails about students are often considered “educational records” under The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In many states, that means that a parent can request to see any email in which their child is named.

Furthermore, many school districts created email addresses for every student during the pandemic. Parents and guardians ask what was sent from and to these new accounts—requests that school districts were often unprepared to meet.

What’s Next for FOIA in Schools?

The particular hot-button issues facing schools will change over time. But as stakeholders have become more informed about their right to transparency, the increase in FOIA requests is unlikely to go away.

Fortunately, an end-to-end records request platform like JustFOIA can help streamline your process. You can meet the demand for transparency without taking away from your other job duties.

JustFOIA’s time-saving features include:

  • “Any and All” document management to easily import email files from Outlook
  • Internal tracking for Title IX and other internal legal matters
  • Public portal and custom forms for easy request intake
  • Advanced security features
  • Redaction capabilities to remove confidential information

Meet the demand for transparency in your district - without losing your marbles.

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Contact us today and learn how you can make records requests “no prob-llama”!