School law attorney Celynda Brashner shared a good presentation at METC 2007 entitled “Technology in the Schools: Policy, Privacy and Practical Issues for Teachers, IT and Others.” With Celynda’s permission I posted a podcast recording of her session and also shared text notes from her session at METC in February 2007. In those notes I included the following statement:

DON’T PUT THINGS IN AN EMAIL THAT YOU WANT SUBPOENAS [TO OBTAIN]

I was typing fast, so perhaps I should have stated this idea bit more clearly. The point I was trying to make is made quite succinctly in the following email footer appended to a message I received today forwarded from an Oklahoma teacher:

Under Oklahoma’s “Public Records” law, absent a specific exclusion, written communications to or from [NAME] School District employees are considered public records. E-mail communication with this correspondent may be subject to public and media disclosure upon request.

Reminders like this are important for not only teachers, but also parents and others who communicate with teachers, principals, and other school employees via email. Don’t assume an email message is going to remain private with the person to whom you are intending to send it. If a subject is touchy or sensitive, don’t address it with an email. Meet face-to-face or discuss it on the phone. Not only can email messages be readily misinterpreted (especially when they concern sensitive topics) and readily forwarded to others (intentionally or unintentionally)– they can also be subpoenaed as public records. This may happen most frequently in school contexts with students who qualify for special education and mandated accommodations, but it can happen in other contexts as well.

Don’t assume your email inbox is a space for private communications.

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