Inspecting Personal Devices of School Staff

If you have any questions about inspecting the personal devices of school staff, contact one of our attorneys at (203) 221-3100

In the digital age, it’s common for school employees to use their personal devices, like smartphones and tablets, for work-related tasks. This convenience comes with a hidden risk: the potential for private communications and records to be subject to public disclosure.

 

Imagine the surprise and concern when a seemingly private text message or email could be scrutinized by the public. This scenario can create confusion and anxiety among staff, leading to hesitation in using personal devices for school business.

 

By understanding the legal boundaries and responsibilities about public records laws school staff can navigate these challenges confidently and maintain their privacy while complying with the law.

What Is Considered To Be Public Record?

Public records include any recorded data or information related to public business. This includes information that is: prepared, owned, used, received, retained by a public agency. These records can be in any form, such as handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, videotaped, printed, Photostatted, photographed, or recorded by any other means.

Key Exception

Records that do not pertain to public business are not considered “public records,” no matter where they are located. This distinction is crucial in determining what information is accessible to the public.

“Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-200(5). According to this definition, records that do not pertain to public business do not qualify as “public records,” regardless of their location.”

Personal Devices for School-Related Purposes

Many educators use personal mobile devices like smartphones or tablets for work-related tasks, including communicating with colleagues, supervisors, or parents. While school districts may permit or even encourage the use of personal devices for job duties, it’s essential to understand the laws governing public employees.

Privacy of Personal Devices

Personal devices used for school-related purposes remain private. However, any records generated on these devices that relate to school business are considered public records once they are received by a public agency. This includes storing the records on the district server.

Public Records Access

While some records, such as those protected under FERPA, can remain confidential, most are available for public review unless an exemption applies. Despite this, personal devices themselves are not subject to public inspection simply because they are used for school-related activities.

Obtaining Public Records on Personal Devices

Public officials may be required to search their personal devices for records responsive to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Examples include:

  • Pinette v. Town Manager, Town of Wethersfield (2004): The Mayor had to search their home computer for emails related to official business.
  • Weeks v. First Selectman, Town of Canterbury (2005): Similar directives were given to retrieve emails related to public duties.

Retrieving Records

When public records are found on personal devices, the public official must retrieve and provide these records. The Freedom of Information Commission has never ordered a third-party forensic examination of private devices to search for public records.

Summary

It is essential for school staff to recognize that any records related to school business become public records upon receipt by a public agency, such as the district server. This applies even if these records were created on personal devices. However, creating records on personal devices does not make those devices subject to examination by third parties under the FOIA.

Concerned about your privacy with personal devices at work? Contact our Westport, CT law firm at (203) 221-3100 to understand your rights and ensure compliance with public records laws.

Key Takeaways

  • Public Records: Include any data related to public business held by a public agency, regardless of format.
  • Personal Devices: Remain private, but school-related records on them become public once received by a public agency.
  • Records Access: Most public records are reviewable unless exempt, though some, like FERPA-protected records, can stay confidential.
  • FOIA Requests: Officials must search personal devices for relevant records and provide them, but no third-party searches are required.
  • Privacy Assurance: Personal devices are not subject to public inspection; only the records created on them are.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to an attorney about the inspection of personal devices of school staff, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.