Florida began its tradition of transparency back in 1909 with the passage of Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, generally known as the Public Records Laws. These laws provide that any records made or received by any public agency or government entity in the course of its official business are available for inspection by citizens, unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature. As a political subdivision of the State of Florida, Valencia is subject to Florida’s Public Records Laws. This is different from the Federal Freedom of Information Act, which does not apply to Valencia College.
- What is a public record?
The definition of a public record in Florida is broad and includes all records “made or received” pursuant to law or “in connection with the transaction of official business.” This can be documents, letters, emails, photographs, books, recordings or other records that have been created to memorialize the College’s work. The content of the record, and not its location, determines whether it is public.
- How do the public records laws affect records subject to other laws, like FERPA?
Nothing in the public records law directly alters the College’s obligations under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). Student education records protected under FERPA are generally NOT public records, but there are many considerations to take into account when records are requested. The best approach is to treat student records as if they are potentially covered by both laws; they should not be shared without student consent, but their contents could potentially be subject to public review. Do not share student education records with anyone outside the College without consulting the Office of Policy and General Counsel.
- As an employee, what obligations do I have?
First, as an employee, do not put anything in an email, text, personal email account or other work record that you would not want disclosed to the public; this includes text messages and emails about work related matters from a personal account. While purely personal records are not subject to the Public Records Laws, records that reflect your personal opinions about work matters may be.
Second, do not destroy any records regarding your work without ensuring that it is legally appropriate for you to do so. You are required to maintain public records pursuant to retention requirements set forth by the State of Florida. (Note: The Director of Contracts and Records can advise departments about how long records must be maintained, and how to document the destruction of records.)
Finally, Valencia College is not required to create records in response to a public records request and you may be called upon to gather records in response to a public records request. These requests can be for many different types of records, including and not limited to:
- Records related to employees or former employees
- Bids or RFP (Request for Proposal) submissions
- Application materials
- Financial records
- College system statistics
- Meeting minutes
- Individual emails, including attachments
- Who can make a request for public records and how are requests made?
Any person can request public records from Valencia College. The request can be made in any manner the requestor chooses: by phone, in person, in an e-mail or letter. The requestor does not need to identify themselves, or to explain why the records are being requested, unless a specific law requires it. Requests can come from current or former employees, students, individual citizens, another employer or the media.
If you receive a public records request, do not respond to it yourself. Immediately forward the request to the Director of Contracts and Records or a representative from the Office of Policy and General Counsel as there are several considerations involved in responding, including whether any exemptions apply, whether any redactions are necessary, and whether any costs may be charged. These colleagues will coordinate the College’s response to the request and may seek your help in gathering records.
- What is an exemption from public records?
Florida law allows certain persons to request that the College not publicly disclose specific identification and/or location information contained in any of its records. Please refer to sections 119.071 (4)(d) and (5)(i), Florida Statute, or other applicable statute for scope of protection.
- How do I claim a public records exemption?
To claim an exemption from Public Records, you need to log into ATLAS. Under Employees tab and My Human Resources channel, click on ‘Update Your Information’ and select ‘Public Records Exemption Request’. You will have the option of adding an exemption, modifying an existing exemption or removing an exemption. For more information, or to seek clarification on eligibility to claim an exemption, please inquire via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What can someone do with a public record once it has been disclosed?
Nearly anything, as there are no limitations on how a public record can be used once it has been disclosed (other than limitations that apply to all records, like committing fraud or identity theft). Public records may end up in the news, on a social media account or as evidence in litigation. This is one reason why you should take great care in drafting emails and other College records.
- What if I have more questions on public records?
For more information on public records, please contact:
Office of Policy and General Counsel
1768 Park Center Drive, DO-40
Orlando, Florida 32835