Legal Mailbag – 2-17-17

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The “Legal Mailbag Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an
answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors.

Please submit your questions to: legalmailbagatcasciacdotorg.


Dear Legal Mailbag:

Life is not all data team meetings and cafeteria supervision. Two months ago, I met a wonderful woman on Tinder, and our relationship has blossomed ever since. We have a lot in common because she is a teacher at another school in my district, and she is even a Red Sox fan! But I got a little carried away, and now I need your help.

The problem is that I used the district email when I sent her Valentine’s Day greetings this week. I have always been a little effusive in my proclamations, but this time I outdid myself. Taking a page from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, my email starts, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach . . . .” Sadly I didn’t end the email there, and I went on and on, venturing into unfortunately explicit references to her body.

Don’t worry. She loved it! However, yesterday one of the parents at my school got mad at me and made an FOI request for “all emails sent or received by the Principal on school email in the last two weeks.” I know that I don’t have to share emails about specific students, but what about my other emails? This could be very embarrassing. Help!

Severely Smitten


Dear Smitten:

Don’t you have a personal email? I hope you realize that your privacy interests are significantly reduced when you use your district email account. That said, I have some good news for you.

To be sure, the definition of “public records” is very broad:

(5) “Public records or files” means any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.

Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 1-200(5)

As you will note, the definition of “public records or files” is very broad, and it refers to “any recorded data or information.” That includes many emails that you write and even text messages.

However, you will further note that I said “many” emails. By that, I mean that some of the emails you write are not considered “public records or files.” The defining factor is the subject of the email. The full phrase from the statutory definition is “any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public’s business.”

Personal emails you write that do not relate to the conduct of the public’s business fall outside the definition of “public records or files.” Such public records would be documents, emails and even text messages that you create or receive in fulfilling your job responsibilities (or even other such records that relate more generally to the operation of your employing school district). However, since you were acting on your own in writing the Valentine’s Day email to your lady friend, that email is not a public record subject to disclosure under the FOIA. But really! Next time just buy a nice card.