Freedom of Information Act: What Can be Accessed?

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This post is part of The Datamation Guide to Managing School District Records.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a piece of legislation that grants public access to certain documents that are in the possession of a government agency or public authority, unless some information is specifically excluded from that legislation.

Some examples of information that cannot be accessed under the FOIA are school transcripts, and school district records of attendance, though what can and cannot be released differs by state and local policies.

Here are some other examples of what may not be released under the federal FOIA law:

● Information involving the CIA

● Internal Agency Memoranda

● Personnel Matters

● Trade Secrets

● Classified Documents

● Law Enforcement Activities

● Litigation

● Confidential Government Sources

● Any information that violates an individuals privacy interests

● Civil Service Examinations

The federal FOIA law counts personnel and medical files as exempt from disclosure, but some state policies may not consider all parts of a personnel file exempt from disclosure.

What this means is that depending on your state and local policies, some information contained in a personnel file may be legal to disclose to the public. Information can be released as long as it is approved for release by state laws, local policies, and school board rules. If information would be considered an outright invasion of privacy by the average person, then it is generally not allowed to be released to the public.

Additionally, school officials and board members fall under the same category as the public in that they must follow the same policies to obtain information. As a school employee or member of the public, it is important that you understand your local and state policies regarding what can be released and what cannot be released.

If you are requesting information by filing an FOIA request, you may have to pay a fee to have the information compiled. Fees are only waived for members of the media and educational institutions whose true purpose is to educate the public on whatever information they believe should be released. When information is denied, the requester must be told why within 10 days of the request being made.

The bottom line is that there are some states that have different standards as to what should be kept private and what can be released to educate the public under the FOIA. It is important that school staff are aware of what these different stipulations are in their state or district in order to fully know their rights.