What Information is Public Information?
In the spirit of transparency, the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) was adopted to help make governmental information accessible to the public. Charter schools, as a qualifying governmental body according to TEC 12.1051(a), must adhere to the regulations and responsibilities outlined in the act. This means that any member of the public for any reason may submit a written request for information/records from the charter school, and that within 10 business days, the charter schools’ custodian of records must respond to the request, providing the information. Note that there are special circumstance caveats regarding what information may or may not be released, when the 10 day timeline may or may not be reasonable, when a fee may or may not be charged, etc.
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Are ALL the charters school’s records and information subject to the TPIA? Or are just certain records required to be made available?
With respect to charter schools, “public information” includes all information that is written, produced, collected, assembled, or maintained under law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of school business:
- By the school;
- For the school and the school
- Owns the information,
- Has a right of access to the information, or
- Spends or contributes public money for the purpose of writing, producing, collecting, assembling, or maintaining the information; or
- By an individual officer or employee of the school in the officer’s or employee’s official capacity and the information pertains to official school business.
The definition of public information also applies to electronic communications created, transmitted, received, or maintained on any device (even personal cell phones, calendars, text messages, emails, and computers!) if the communication is in connection with the transaction of official school business.
So, long story short, mostly yes, but not always. The non-exhaustive list of records that are NOT subject to be released upon request are student records protected by FERPA, social security numbers, IRS forms (I9, W2, W4), DPS records (driver’s license number, license plate number), or financial account information (credit or debit card, bank account). Also, if the employee “opts out” via election, also you may withhold the following records from release: personal email addresses, home addresses, personal phone numbers, and information about family members.
While exceptions will apply, most other information is subject to public release.
What if I am not sure what the requestor is actually asking for?
Generally, when a request is received, you may not ask questions of the requestor. However, an exception applies: you may ask for clarification if the request is unclear or you may ask that the request be narrowed if a large amount of information has been requested. Example – Requestor asks for all teacher records. This request is huge! Much too broad! You may ask the requestor to specify which records they would like and ask the requestor to narrow the timeframe (teachers currently employed? teachers from a specific school year?) in order to more reasonably respond to their request.