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‘Email delete’ policy is misunderstood according to LAUSD

Vanessa Romo | September 15, 2014

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buried under paperA policy intended to delete unnecessary emails on LA Unified district computers has caused a media storm and much confusion, but ultimately is misunderstood, according to officials who spoke to LA School Report.

“It could be this is much ado about nothing” said school board member, Steve Zimmer.

The bottom line: the ‘delete’ program does not apply if employees are following policy, that is, properly archiving emails from their inbox.

“Those are absolutely safe,” said Lydia Ramos, district communications director. “If it’s on your hard drive then it stays.”

Last week the school board voted to approve software by Microsoft that would routinely destroy emails left in the “inbox” of LA Unified employees after a calendar year, in compliance with a policy from 2012 called the Record’s Retention and Instruction Policy – that has not yet taken affect.

But, Ramos confirmed, emails properly archived by employees on department servers or on individual computers are not affected – and at least for now, the district says, it will not delete any emails at all.

Ramos also added that a controversial batch of iPad-related emails that were recently released would not have been slated for deletion, had the policy been fully in place.

Concerns about the unintended consequences of the new email management system and the retention policy arose almost immediately after the board approved the $295,000 contract. Several members voiced concern at the board meeting, saying it could lead to the destruction of public records – a contentious topic on the heels of the release of two-year old emails revealing previously unknown communications between Superintendent John Deasy, former district Deputy Jaime Aquino, and top Apple and Pearson executives leading up to the district’s $500 million iPad deal.

The LAUSD policy, which should have taken effect July of 2013 but has been delayed due to lack of infrastructure and staffing, establishes guidelines for identifying three “classes” of records:

  • Permanent records, which should be kept indefinitely or a minimum of seven years
  • Non-permanent records, which should be kept for three but reviewed for re-classification after one year
  • Disposable records, which can be deleted after three years

Determining which emails fall under each category is up to the discretion of individual employees. The iPad-related emails would, at the very least, fall under the “non-permanent” category, said Ramos.

Many school board members report archiving emails to their hard drives regularly.

“It’s not even because I choose to, it’s because I have to,” said Zimmer. “Every few weeks I get an alert telling me I’m running out of email storage space and in order to make room, I go through and delete what I don’t need then store the rest.”

But confusion remains. Board member Monica Ratliff announced Wednesday she plans to discuss the issue at the October board meeting. “In reviewing the policy, I was alarmed to learn that our current, existing policy is that emails are to be automatically deleted after one year,” she said in a statement.

“I believe the District should preserve any emails of Board members, the Superintendent, senior officers and their respective staffs.  Often, older emails may have historical importance that cannot always be assessed until later.”

Board member Tamar Galatzan expressed similar concerns.

“The 2012 policy was designed to let us declutter email accounts and better manage a system that serves more than 60,000 employees,” Galatzan told LA School Report. “At the time, we were told that employees would be able to save relevant emails for as long as they needed to and also that the district would be able to recover important documents. I’m no longer confident this is the case and will support changes to ensure that critical information is preserved.”

Zimmer, who admits he’s also confused about the new policy, said he was not alarmed by the change until after the vote.

“I just assumed that if the policy has been in place since 2012 and those emails, which are more than a year old have all been released, then the archiving system was working and this really wasn’t a big deal.”

Ramos said the new software will make it easier to search for archived emails and respond more quickly to public records requests. “The spirit of the policy is to help employees manage their records and help them identify which documents are important and need to be kept.”

She also pointed to a survey by the San Diego Union-Tribune. According to the report of more than 100 local governments found that a one-year policy is generous, “Carlsbad keeps emails 90 days, San Diego County keeps them 60 days, San Marcos for 30 days. At the Fallbrook Public Utilities District, it’s nine days.”

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