Email Archiving in Education: What Features Work Best for K-12

February 24, 2020 by Jatheon

Most K-12 districts are already informed about email archiving best practices (if yours isn’t, our team recently wrote an article about archiving being a top priority in the education industry).

No matter the size of your district and the number of FOIA requests you get per year, having a proper email archiving solution is useful for a number of reasons, the first one being quite obvious – it gives organizations a highly searchable repository of all email. If a teacher leaves, you’ll need access to their email. Their replacement will need to be able to access lesson plans, student records, notes and correspondence. What if your district is faced with a legal matter and you need to provide email records? What if you desperately need an email that you deleted? With email archiving, this will never be a problem.

Fitting comprehensive email archiving technology into districts’ tight budgets can be a problem, which is why they often rely on rudimentary archiving features contained in their email clients. While it’s difficult to argue with freebies, they do come with issues – the lack of robust search functionality and legal features increases time spent on data requests while the lack of dedicated technical support can cause malfunctions, data loss and problems with export, to name just a few. We recently wrote about the drawbacks of relying on Google Vault and Office365 for the archiving of your district’s messaging data.

Specialist email archiving vendors will always have the edge over the big names who treat archiving as a feature only, and here are some major arguments:

  • Email archiving specialists have spent years (or decades) establishing the industry trends and adapting to the regulatory landscape in the US.
  • They offer multiple deployment models and are able to adequately respond to the needs of both small businesses and enterprises.
  • Specialized email archiving solutions have the necessary functionality that can help districts with multiple issues – from FERPA compliance, FOIA requests and server relief to legal preparedness and proactive monitoring.
  • Specialized companies are quick to adapt to the market trends and expand their feature set as regulation shift.
  • Many monitoring solutions used by districts focus on student safety only rather than offer a comprehensive strategy to retain all the data in line with regulations.

VIDEO: Watch Jatheon’s CEO and VP Business Development discuss this in detail:

So here are the top features every school district needs for an all-encompassing archiving strategy.

1. Compatibility with email environment

When assessing different email archiving providers, the first box to check is to make sure their solution will work seamlessly with whatever email client your district is using.

2. Advanced search capabilities

The biggest time-waster when dealing with open records requests and legal searches is the inability to find the exact data you need for a particular case. Sometimes the data is scattered across servers and folders and more often than not, the system returns too many results (including irrelevant ones), which then need to be inspected manually.

The sole purpose of advanced search is to let districts narrow down complex searches and have relevancy. A good advanced search uses Boolean, wildcard and proximity operators, includes fuzzy searches and allows search by all relevant email criteria such as the sender, recipient, subject, message body, attachments etc. Being able to structure your search well is vital, and not many archiving solutions come with the search functionality that allows that much complexity and flexibility. However, robustness and ease of use should go hand in hand, so make sure the interface is intuitive enough for your least technical person to use comfortably.

In email archiving, robustness and ease of use should go hand in hand. Click To Tweet

3. Ability to meet federal and state open records laws

According to FOIA, K-12 districts need to make available all records, including records in the electronic format that were exchanged by email, instant messaging apps or on social media. To be able to produce the requested information and meet the often strict deadlines, schools need more than advanced search. They need to be able to export or download all the collected records and present them in a usable format (PST, EML, PDF), which isn’t always the case.

4.  Granular features that support ediscovery

Not all email archiving solutions are able to restrict specific actions while permitting others. Having an email archiver that can act as the foundation of your ediscovery response can be crucial, during and beyond early case assessment. Imagine a scenario in which a teacher is suspected of misconduct and they delete all their email and IM exchanges. Screenshots are not properly time and date-stamped and they can be manipulated, which is why they can never stand at court. Having a copy of each and every record in your archive is a whole different story.

Before you opt for a particular email archiving system, check that it:

  • comes with adequate user roles that allow administrators to restrict access to data to end users;
  • has an activity log which can track who conducted which searches and when and what they did with the data and
  • stores data in a write-once-read-many format.

5. Customizable email retention policies

Email retention policies are there to make your life easier – based on your regulatory and organizational needs, you specify how long the data should be kept in the archive and when that window expires, the data gets deleted automatically and frees you of any further liability.

This sounds basic, but some email archiving systems come with unchangeable, predefined retention periods. Other vendors will charge you extra for every new policy you create. Districts need much more flexibility in terms of records retention. You might want to keep the school board’s email correspondence and info on grants longer than the records of procurement or everyday teacher to teacher email exchanges. For this reason, go for the email archiver which supports customization and allows you to create limitless policies for a flat price.

6. Support for data redundancy

Losing students’ educational records would create a FERPA nightmare for your district, so if you’re hosting email archiving in your own data center, make sure you replicate the data on another appliance or in the cloud.

Good archiving vendors will be able to offer you a data redundancy package and save you plenty of money in the process.

7. Reliable technical support

If you’ve ever done business with Google or any tech giant, you know how difficult it is to get personalized tech support and reach an actual human. Albeit smaller, many email archiving specialists have substantial experience in working with school districts and know how to handle the IT challenges and implement best practices typical of your industry.

The best way to test vendors’ support is to call their support lines and see how quickly you’ll connect. Some companies will only have the basic, tier-one IT support or even outsourced teams, while others have highly-qualified teams available 24/7, offering in-depth technical support.

If you’re archiving on premises, make sure the company can also provide continual appliance monitoring, as well as free hardware maintenance and replacement (ideally free of charge). Another good point to consider is whether the vendor can be responsible for the migration of your data (if you’re switching from a legacy solution).

Finally, take the time to read the reviews by actual customers on websites like Gartner or Capterra. After all, you’d do the same if you were looking for an AirBnB or a restaurant.

Our team recently made the Ultimate Education Compliance Checklist for Data Archiving in 2020. Get it for free.

Jatheon is an email archiving specialist with 15 years of experience in working with schools and universities across the US. If you’d like to learn more about how Jatheon can help your district to ensure FERPA compliance and deal with requests more efficiently, book a personal demo or contact us to share your experience.

Read next:

7 Reasons Why You Need to Think Beyond Office365 Email Archiving

Why You Should Start Looking For a Google Vault Alternative Now

How Jatheon Helped MCSD Improve Compliance and FOIA Response with Email Archiving

5 Google Vault Alternatives for Email Archiving

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