San Diego SPJ Cheers Judge’s Ruling Stopping SDUSD Email Deletion

Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn on Friday stopped the San Diego Unified School District from deleting millions of old emails, pending the outcome of a trial.

The policy, passed by the San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees last year, would have resulted in the deletion of millions of emails on June 1, 2018. On May 31, after Voice of San Diego and San Diegans for Open Government filed lawsuits seeking to halt the policy’s implementation, Styn granted a preliminary injunction. Styn gave all parties a chance to argue their case in court and file additional documents. Today, he ruled the injunction will remain in place pending the outcome of a trial scheduled for March 2019.

For more than a year, the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has raised concerns that important public records will be deleted if the policy is enacted. We regularly reached out to the district to get updates on the policy’s implementation, and we researched how other large California school districts handle email retention (all of them keep emails for at least two years). We also questioned whether it was proper for the district to allow individual employees to decide which of their own emails should be retained and which emails should be deleted.

Despite our monthly requests to the school district, we were never provided with clear evidence that employees had been adequately trained on which emails fit the definition of a “record” and should therefore be retained. Judge Styn noted this in his ruling, saying he “was not persuaded” that the district had provided employees with proper guidance.

“The court finds SDUSD fails to establish that its guidelines, policies and procedures will insure that ‘records’ will not be destroyed during the automatic deletion procedure,” Styn wrote.

SD-SPJ is pleased with Judge Styn’s ruling on this important matter of transparency and appreciates his questioning of whether the district had taken all necessary steps to ensure its policy didn’t result in the destruction of public records.

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