There are very few sectors today that can get away without adhering to email compliance legislation, and education is not one of them.
Federal rules and data protection legislation mandate that school districts, universities and most educational agencies archive email and other communications as part of their data compliance duties. This is to cover the organization if the authorities ever require any records. If the institutions cannot produce the records, they could be subject to fines and penalties.
Email Archiving Can Help Reduce Legal Costs
In reality, school districts are not completely clueless. On the contrary, most stakeholders are aware of the potential for legal issues to arise. A recent poll found that 65% of K-12 school principals fear that their decisions might be legally challenged. Nearly the same percentage (55%) think the threat of legal challenges is on the rise.
An increase in legal costs would be crippling for a lot of school districts, as they already foot huge legal bills and get limited federal funding. For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District alone spent over $183 million on lawsuits over a four-year period. We’re only one month into 2020, but it already seems as if it might be the year when court cases could shift the K-12 landscape.
Streamlined Ediscovery for Schools
In schools, internal communication is mostly conducted via email, and so is communication with parents and students. Email archiving ensures these records are safe and accessible. Access is the key issue here. Within the discovery process, schools are required to disclose electronic information early in the proceedings.
But the need for early disclosure isn’t the only requirement when it comes to email records. Another one is the form email evidence takes – it is vital that electronic evidence be provided in its original form since any changes raise the potential for accusations of evidence tampering.
Email archiving prevents this in several ways:
- It ensures that all records are not only stored safely and searchable, but that they can be located and retrieved quickly
- It makes sure the original message or thread is stored in its native, WORM format, that it is time and date stamped and that it can’t be altered or deleted
What About FERPA?
FERPA (short for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is a federal law protecting students’ educational records and allowing students (and their parents) the right to correct faulty records. It applies to all educational institutions which receive federal funding and gives students the rights to:
- view, review and request changes to their educational records in case they are inaccurate, misleading or in violation of students’ privacy
- request that their personally identifiable information not be disclosed without written permission
- submit a formal complaint to the US Department of Education if there is suspicion that the institution did not comply with the FERPA requirements
Examples of educational records include SSN, biographical information (including gender, nationality, race, religion and photos), test scores, GPA, exam papers, email conversations or any other recorded communications.
Electronic data archiving is important for FERPA because compliance managers will be able to track what information they have on a particular student, how well it is protected and who has access to it.
In case an educational institution is faced with charges on FERPA violations, their email archive would be their first line of defense and could save a lot of man-hours, time and money typically spent on legal counsel.
What and When to Archive?
The general rule of thumb is that all email and official social media accounts have to be archived. But does this include spam mail and any personal email?
Email filtering software should be able to filter out spam, and it’s a good idea to encourage employees to use personal email and social media accounts when dealing with personal communications.
With those out of the equation, your compliance and IT teams should treat all other email communications as relevant business records. Remember that daily backups won’t make the cut and won’t satisfy federal requirements. This is because an email can be sent and then deleted during the day before a nightly backup is completed, which would lead to incomplete records and be in breach of federal requirements.
For this reason precisely, the most comprehensive and tested way of ensuring email compliance is automated data archiving.
If you work in the education sector, the beginning of a calendar year is the perfect time to explore email archiving solutions and opt for one which can protect your institution.
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