Open Records Law and Emails
Published July 2018
Iowa Code chapter 22 is Iowa’s Open Records law. A public record includes email messages sent and received by a school district (or Area Education Agency or any public) employee on his/her school-owned computer.
Just because the emails are public records does not mean that every word within the communication gets released. Items that potentially could be expunged (e.g., omitted by using white-out) may include students’ names, parents’ names, home addresses, other “home” information, Social Security numbers, etc. What information - if any - gets expunged depends on the context and intent of the email. Some senders of emails to district employees have some limited rights of privacy regarding their identity, again depending on all of the facts and circumstances. School administrators should check with their school attorneys when a request for copies of emails (or any public document) is received.
Because emails to or from a district employee on a school computer are public, it is wise to remind all employees of this. (If board members communicate to administrators via email, it is prudent to also include them in any reminders.) In addition to the above information, consider including the following in a memorandum to staff:
Your school computer is not your property.
- Emails sent/received on your school account are subject to open records law. Remember that any parent may ask to see school email about their child. Avoid this real-life email exchange between a school bus driver and a transportation supervisor:
Driver: “You have to do something about the situation with (Student).”
Supervisor: “What’s the problem?”
Driver: “His mother.”
When the mother saw the email, she was not amused.
- Personal use such as Facebook or Amazon accounts are not allowed. Questionable internet sites are misuse of public property. The media, taxpayers, and any member of the public may ask to see how district employees use their school computers.
- Instant messaging (IM’ing) is treated in the same manner as email.
- Remember putting “Confidential” at the top of an email does not necessarily make it “Confidential”.
"Sunshine Advisories" regarding open meetings and public records are available on the Iowa Attorney General's website. You can also look at recent decisions from the Iowa Public Information Board.