The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is considering a revision to its policy concerning archiving emails after the board approved a software purchase that would automatically delete all one-year-old emails.
The board voted this week to spend $294,500 on a new email archival system from Microsoft. The system will make it easier to find old emails, but it will also automatically destroy them based on a schedule determined by the district.
"Our government agencies should not be sanitizing their files to make it harder for the public to see what's going on," said Robert Silverstein, a Pasadena-based attorney and open-government advocate. He said Tuesday's decision could hinder the work of prosecutors and other fact-finders.
According to the board, it is simply trying to comply with a "policy bulletin" that took effect in 2012, which states the district must store emails "for a maximum of one year only." This had never previously occurred due to staffing and technical limitations.
The system was put to use this August when KPCC published two-year-old internal emails showing that Superintendent John Deasy had a "partnership" with Apple and Pearson in 2012, almost an entire year before the companies won a $500 million contract with the district to supply students and teachers with iPads loaded with Pearson software.
According to Deasy, the emails were concerning a pilot project separate from the full-blown contract. The contract was canceled three days after the emails were published.
However, it was those emails which had caused the school district's inspector general to reopen his investigation concerning the purchase.
District general counsel David Holmquist said the system could be changed to allow emails that should be kept to stay, in compliance with public records obligations. No law exists that said emails must be deleted within one year, the goal is to reduce the cost associated with keeping and managing the records.
The new system would allow the district to refuse any California Public Records Act requests for emails more than one year old.
The move almost went through without question at last Tuesday's meeting, but board member Monica Ratcliff said she would like to find a way to preserve emails that hold potential importance indefinitely.
No emails will be deleted until the board reaches a decision.
"I believe the District should preserve any emails of Board members, the Superintendent, senior officers and their respective staffs," Ratliff said in a written statement Wednesday. "Often, older emails may have historical importance that cannot always be assessed until later," she said. "The Board and District must come up with a timeline for email retention that makes sense and clearly serves the public's interest."