Many public agencies have been receiving a much higher volume of records requests over the last few years. Records requests are at an all-time high since 2016, and some agencies are having a hard time dealing with the increase. In fact, there’s a growing backlog of requests in the US. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, backlogged cases have sky-rocketed, increasing 17.7% from 2019.
School districts in particular have seen an increase, in not only request numbers but request breadth, because of their role in school governance. School districts set policies and guidelines for their constituent schools. So when parents or other community members have questions about broader policy, they turn directly to the district. Compiling documents for these wide-ranging requests can be expensive and time-consuming without a records request management system.
Broader requests means more hours devoted to fulfilling them, which costs districts money. Loudoun County Schools recently estimated that one especially broad requests they received for all records containing the phrases “sexual assault” or “rape” would cost $36,000 to fulfill. The number of staff hours devoted to the task would be so high because of how many hours it would take to locate, process, and package these documents for release.
Though these costs can be invoiced to the requester, it still takes staff time to research and estimate costs. And, as in the Loudoun County example, requesters may abandon inquiries with price tags so high and try again with a narrower scope. Both sides may end up feeling like they’re playing whack-a-mole with requests and not making much progress.
School districts don’t want to create adversarial relationships with concerned citizens, nor do they want to stop information from being released. But it’s difficult for them to balance the demands of broad requests with their other daily responsibilities.
In addition to broad topics, school districts often receive requests for information on high-profile decisions or controversial topics. School districts have made hard choices in the last few years related to COVID-19, masks, and vaccinations. Community opinions were strong and sharply divided. “Critical race theory” is another high-profile topic that has been the subject of school district records requests recently.
When policies on divisive issues are announced, many people may want to know how decisions were reached. They often request to see emails around the topic, which can present technical difficulties. Downloading large .PST files from Outlook and trying to extract files can take time. Often the IT department has to get involved to get the files ready for review and redaction, which can take even longer.
Careful redaction may be necessary, especially if documents involve a lot of contact information or names of minors. When releasing potentially controversial or sensitive information, school districts may want to consult attorneys and get more administration members involved in the approval process. It’s important to organize the workflow of these documents to make sure the right people see them in the right order.
NextRequest can help your school district streamline its records request process, from intake to invoicing. You can design custom workflows that seamlessly move requests through your team’s stakeholders and automatically send reminders when action is needed.
When you receive requests for emails, you can put the .PST file from Outlook directly into NextRequest to extract the content. You won’t need IT’s help. Once the emails have been extracted, they’re ready to be reviewed for redaction.
Redaction goes quickly with NextRequest’s RapidReview application. It allows true batch redaction, so you can redact the same word or phrase from multiple documents all at once. It also autosaves all your redactions as drafts. This is especially useful for collaborative redaction, because redactions can be reviewed and approved before they’re finalized. You can also add reaction reasons, so team members can easily work together on documents during remote or hybrid work.
School districts work with highly sensitive information, because their work involves minors. They have an obligation to protect the students and families they serve. Redaction can be painstaking work, and the more documents that are requested the greater the risk of mistakes.
NextRequest’s risk module helps you identify any potentially sensitive information you may have missed for redaction. The risk module automatically identifies certain data formats, like phone numbers, email addresses, SSNs, and more. The risk module minimizes the chance of human error in redaction.
You can also get ahead of requests by proactively publishing documents with NextRequest. Through a self-service tool, requesters can find what they’re looking for online. This reduces the number of duplicate requests received over time. Keyword alerts also help redirect requesters to existing resources or other agencies if they are the custodian of record.
NextRequest has helped school districts save time and money while increasing compliance with state records laws. Judson Independent School District, the largest school district in the San Antonio area, used to have a manual process for responding to records requests, with physical forms and handwritten updates. Now, they use NextRequest to streamline their workflow and track every request through the response process. They estimate that they’ve reduced the time spent responding to records requests by 40%. They can devote more time to important activities like marketing, board meeting prep, and keeping up with district and school events.
Public agencies’ social media accounts and websites are subject to public records laws. Save even more time and headache responding to records requests with Optimere’s web and social archiving solution, ArchiveSocial. It automatically records and stores content, putting it at your fingertips with easy filter and search functions.
We also know that compliance goes beyond recordkeeping. Optimere’s web governance product Monsido offers tools for web accessibility, website quality assurance, brand and content compliance, user consent management, and more.