SD SPJ Seeks Clarity on SDUSD’s New Email Retention Policy

On Tuesday evening, the San Diego Unified School Board unanimously adopted a policy to delete all emails from district servers after one year despite a recommendation from the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to retain them for two years as other large California school districts do. San Diego SPJ spoke at the meeting, raising concern with this and the fact that district employees will be charged with deciding which emails are public records.

Trustees voted on the new policy after only about five minutes of discussion. There was not a formal presentation on the proposal.

A number of things remain unclear about the new policy:

    • When will it take effect?
    • Which emails are considered public records?
    • Will employees receive training on the California Public Records Act?
    • What will happen to emails that are scheduled for deletion before outstanding requests can be fulfilled?

Some journalists have told San Diego SPJ that they’ve had to wait months for email records. Some are concerned that the district could run out the clock on requests, deleting relevant emails before they can be released.

San Diego SPJ is committed to trying to get answers to outstanding questions and concerns about this policy change.

SD SPJ concerns about updated proposed San Diego Unified email policy

The San Diego Unified School Board is set to vote tonight on a new email retention policy that would result in the purging of emails older than a year from district servers. Going forward, the policy would also rely on employees to decide which emails are and aren’t public records.

San Diego SPJ has repeatedly raised concerns about the district’s lack of transparency and, in June, met with two of the district’s top public information officers to discuss how to improve access to information. We also discussed the proposed email policy.

While we appreciate the board’s vote last month to delay implementing new email retention rules pending a review of district public records policies, we have concerns with some of the recommendations the board will consider tonight.

Other large school districts in California retain emails for two years in the interest of transparency. This includes Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno and Elk Grove unified school districts. (While today’s staff report indicates Elk Grove doesn’t have an email retention policy, we personally confirmed that they retain emails for two years.) We urge the board to take this into consideration and also require staff to consult with outside public records experts to ensure employees have proper training on what constitutes a public record.

SD SPJ Calls for Better SD Unified Email Policy

The San Diego Unified School District recently announced it will start deleting emails older than six months effective July 1, a change the district describes as a cost-saving measure. The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is concerned this policy will significantly hamper access to important public information at a time when the public and the media already have problems obtaining information and records from the district.

San Diego SPJ has researched email retention policies in other large California school districts and learned that the policy San Diego Unified is proposing is outside the norm. The Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno and Elk Grove unified school districts all retain emails for at least two years, per their policies.

At a productive meeting last week to discuss transparency concerns with San Diego SPJ, two of the district’s public information officers told the SPJ board the new email retention policy was an administrative decision that didn’t require school board approval. But the district has since said the board may vote on the policy after it goes into effect, and school board member Richard Barrera has said he wants a June 27 vote on the new policy. San Diego SPJ believes San Diego Unified should follow other large districts’ examples and consider retaining emails for at least two years. San Diego SPJ urges the school district to adopt a better email policy and, even if it doesn’t, to honor all existing public records requests that seek emails more than six months old.

SPJ San Diego Announces 2017 Journalist of the Year

Morgan Cook

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is thrilled to announce its 2017 Journalist of the Year: Morgan Cook, an investigative reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

San Diego has seen its share of big stories this past year, but our board believes no local journalist did better work than Cook in her relentless accountability reporting on Congressman Duncan Hunter’s use of campaign funds for personal expenses. She broke the story last year and continues to follow it after the Department of Justice made clear in March that it is investigating Hunter, whose district covers Alpine, Escondido and Temecula.

Cook’s first story came last April after she found a letter posted by the Federal Election Commission questioning Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, for using campaign funds to pay for video games. Cook then wrote about Hunter’s other questionable self-reported expenses that he claimed were mistakes — items such as oral surgery, private school tuition and a garage door. Then she dug through Hunter’s campaign filings to fact check additional expenses and found other items that didn’t add up, including $229 for “food and beverages” at a Disneyland gift shop where the only food sold is PEZ and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispies treat.

Throughout her coverage, Cook has explained to readers why this matters — the practice of campaign contributors funding a candidate’s personal life, not just his campaign, opens up the possibility of undue influence. To that end, Cook’s reporting has included who was giving the money and what they might be getting in return. She has persevered in her coverage despite a barrage of criticism and lack of cooperation from Hunter’s campaign.

In light of Cook’s stories, Hunter has returned more than $60,000 to his campaign and the Department of Justice is continuing its investigation. We applaud Cook’s dogged reporting that has stayed focused on what is important — and why — and are honored to recognize her as our Journalist of the Year.

Celebrate Cook and all of this year’s winners at our banquet on Wednesday, July 19, at Kona Kai. The full list of winners and all banquet details will be announced in June.