By D. Adam Anderson, AttorneyOregon’s Public Charter Schools face compliance with a number of non-educational legal requirements incumbent upon them as state public bodies, through the incorporation provisions of ORS 338.115. Among other laws, these include Oregon public meetings law, public records law, municipal audit law, and public contracting law. Where school districts and other traditional government agencies are often able to dedicate expert staff to comply with these various regimes, charter schools must often deal with these complex matters on the fly, and often within unexpected timeframes. Effective January 1, 2018, Oregon Senate Bill 481, amending public records law procedure, adds yet more requirements.
Like all Oregon public bodies, charter schools must comply with requests from the public for “public records,” as defined pursuant to ORS 192.410-192.505 (the “Public Records Law”). Even if the requested records are otherwise exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Law or other relevant laws (including FERPA), public record requests must be completed “as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay.” Charter schools are also required to promulgate a written public records policy that (1) identifies a public records coordinator for the school, (2) describes request procedures and applicable timelines, and (3) notifies the public of applicable fees and the availability of fee waivers. “Public records” are broadly defined as any “writing” that contains information relating to the conduct of the School’s business, and that is prepared, owned, used, or retained by the School regardless of physical form or characteristics.
Senate Bill 481 imposes a new timeframe and detailed requirements, comprised of three big-picture steps. First, within five “business days” of receiving a request, a charter school must provide a written “acknowledgment” to the requestor that it has, does not have, or is as yet unsure whether it has the requested records. The new law defines what constitutes a “business day” in some detail. Second, within ten business days of the initial acknowledgment, the request must then be “completed,” or else a detailed written statement explaining when it will be completed must be provided instead. Third, SB 481 provides a six-part test for when a records request may be deemed truly “complete” to satisfy the school’s obligations, including whether the agency has adequately advised the requestor of the right to seek review of the school’s response.
Various other parts of the new law concern exceptions to the new timeframe when necessitated due to staffing or workload, fee requests and fee waivers, and expanded timeframes when additional information or clarification is needed in good faith from the requestor.
Even if your charter school rarely receives a request, an understanding of the new procedure is necessary for timely compliance when one does arrive. At a minimum, your school needs a written public records policy, or likely needs to revise any existing policy, to fully comply with SB 481. Jordan Ramis PC is highly experienced in representing Oregon charter schools, through all phases of formation, charter application and renewal, and day-to-day operations. Let us know how we can assist your school.
D. Adam Anderson is a business and nonprofit law attorney at Jordan Ramis PC specializing in the representation of public charter schools and other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Contact him at (503) 598-7070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.