School district e-mail messages, like paper records, must be retained and destroyed according to established records management procedures as required by New Jersey’s Division of Archives & Records Management (NJDARM). E-mail messages are electronic documents created and sent or received by a computer system. This definition applies equally to the contents of the communication, the transactional information, and any attachments associated with such communication. Thus, e-mail messages are similar to other forms of communicated messages, such as correspondence and memoranda.
N.J.S.A. 47:3-16, as amended, defines public records as follows:
“Public records” mean any paper, written or printed book, document or drawing, map or plan, photograph, microfilm, data processed or image processed document, sound recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof, that has been made or required by law to be received for filing, indexing, or reproducing by any officer, commission agency, or authority of the State or any political subdivision thereof, including any subordinate boards thereof, or that has been received in the course of his/her or its official business by such officer, commission, agency, or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof, in connection with the transaction of public business and has been retained by such recipient or its successor as evidence of its activities or because of the information contained therein.
An e-mail message that meets the criteria of the definition of public records per N.J.S.A. 47:3-16, as amended, whether it is subject to access by the general public or not, must be retained according to records retention and disposition schedules approved by the State Records Committee. No public record e-mail may be destroyed without prior consent of the NJDARM and the State Records Committee, even if the retention period for a record has expired.
Retention or disposition of e-mail messages must be related to the information they contain or the purpose they serve. The content of e-mail messages may vary considerably and therefore, the content must be evaluated to determine the length of time the message must be retained. For the purposes of this Policy, there are non-record e-mail messages and public record e-mail messages.
Non-record e-mail messages are personal correspondence that do not meet the criteria of public records as per N.J.S.A. 47:3-16, as amended, and may be deleted at any time unless they become part of some official record as a result of a special circumstance. These types of messages may include personal correspondence not received or created in the course of school district business and may be deleted at any time since it is not an official public record. Non-record e-mail messages are also non-governmental publications that are publications, promotional material from vendors, and similar materials that are publicly available to anyone. These e-mail messages are not public records as defined by N.J.S.A. 47:3-16, as amended, unless specifically incorporated into other official public records, and may also be deleted at any time. However, if an e-mail message is used to justify an expenditure or is included in a proposal, the e-mail message becomes an official public record and must be retained according to records retention and disposition schedules in accordance with the appropriate retention schedules.
All public record e-mail messages shall be maintained by the individual who sends the e-mail message and the primary recipient. The sender and primary recipient are encouraged to print a hard copy of a public record e-mail and file the e-mail in school district files for continued access. The district may establish a district-wide system to facilitate public record e-mail management for continued access and retention. All public record e-mails shall be retained according to records retention and disposition schedules approved by the State Records Committee and no public record e-mail may be destroyed without prior consent of the NJDARM and the State Records Committee, even if the retention period for a record has expired.
An e-mail message that meets the criteria of the definition of a “government record” per N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 must be made available to the public upon request under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act during the required retention period, unless the content of the message falls under one of the exceptions contained in the Act or any other statute, regulation, Executive Order by the Governor, rule of Court, or Federal law, regulation or order.
State of New Jersey – Circular Letter 03-10-ST – Managing Electronic Mail: Guidelines and Best Practices – 7/11/02
Adopted: February 2015