Email Retention in State of Michigan Public Schools

I’ve been working with several of my public school districts to develop and implement email retention systems, which is essentially indexed email archives.  The question we have been struggling with is how long do the messages have to be kept for?

I had previously found the general consensus to be the District needs to archive email for as long as their email retention policy says it will be kept.  If the District doesn’t have a retention policy, or if their policy states they do not retain email, then it doesn’t need to be archived.

I did some digging on the State of Michigan’s Department of Education  web site, and did find the Schedule for the Retention and Disposal of Public School Records.  This document details what information needs to be retained and for how long, but does not specifically address email messages.  Instead, they broadly describe their Records Maintenance expectations:

Records can exist in a wide variety of formats, including paper, maps, photographs, microfilm,
digital images, e-mail messages, databases, etc. The retention periods listed on this general
schedule do not specify the format that the record may exist in, because each government agency
that adopts this schedule may choose to retain its records using different recording media.

Government agencies are responsible for ensuring that all of their records (regardless of format)
are properly retained and remain accessible during this entire retention period. All records need
to be stored in a secure and stable environment that will protect them from tampering, damage
and degradation. Electronic records are dependent upon specific hardware and software to be
accessed and used. It is important to understand that the original technology that is used to
create electronic records will eventually become obsolete. As a result, school districts should
work with their information technology staff to develop preservation plans for retaining
electronic records with long-term (more than 10 years) retention requirements. Various laws
MCL 24.401-24.406 (including the Records Reproduction Act) identify acceptable formats for
retaining public records; agencies are responsible for understanding and complying with these

I also came across the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries Records Management Services Frequently Asked Questions About E-mail Retention.  A few highlights from that FAQ include:

Q: Is e-mail a public record?
A: E-mail messages are public records if they are created or received as part of performing a public employee’s official duties.

Q: Does my e-mail belong to me?
A: All e-mail messages that are created, received or stored by a government agency are public property. They are not the property of employees, vendors or customers.

Employees should have no expectation of privacy when using government computer resources.

Q: What are my responsibilities as a government employee who uses e-mail?
A: Employee responsibilities for managing e-mail messages are the same as those for other records. Employees are responsible for organizing their e-mail messages so they can be located and used.

Q: What are my responsibilities as a government employee who uses e-mail?
A: Employee responsibilities for managing e-mail messages are the same as those for other records. Employees are responsible for organizing their e-mail messages so they can be located and used. Employees are responsible for using an approved Retention and Disposal Schedule to identify how long e-mail messages must be kept.

Employees are responsible for keeping e-mail messages for their entire retention period, and for deleting e-mail messages in accordance with an approved Retention and Disposal Schedule.

Q: I sometimes use my home computer and personal e-mail account to conduct government business. Am I creating public records?
A: Yes. Records created in the performance of an official function must be managed the same way as those created and received using government computer resources.

Q: Does all e-mail have the same retention period?
A: No. Just like paper records, e-mail records are used to support a variety of business processes. E-mail messages must be evaluated for their content and purpose to determine the length of time the message must be retained in accordance with the appropriate Retention and Disposal Schedule.

Q: Who is responsible for retaining e-mail messages, the sender or the recipient?
A: Just as in the case of paper records, e-mail messages may be evidence of decisions and activities. Both senders and recipients of e-mail messages must determine if a particular message should be retained to document their role in agency activities.

Q: My e-mail messages are automatically purged after a specified period of time. Am I still responsible for their retention?
A: Yes. Some e-mail mailboxes are programmed to automatically purge e-mail messages after a specified amount of time, such as 90 days. However, these purge routines are technology-driven and are not based upon Retention and Disposal Schedules. Many e-mail messages need to be retained longer than these periods of time. Employees are responsible for ensuring that e-mail messages with longer retention periods remain accessible until the appropriate Retention and Disposal Schedule authorizes their destruction. Note: Records, including e-mail, cannot be destroyed if they have been requested under the Freedom on Information Act (FOIA), or if they are part of on-going litigation, even if their retention period has expired.

Q: Will my older e-mail messages be accessible when our technology (hardware and software) is upgraded or changed?
A: Many e-mail messages need to be kept longer than the original technology that was used to send and receive them. New technology is not always compatible with older technology that agencies may have used. Agencies are responsible for ensuring that older e-mail messages remain accessible as technology is upgraded or changed. Agencies may need to inform information technology staff about the existence and location of older messages when technology upgrades and changes take place, so the messages can be migrated to the new technology.

Q: What happens to the e-mail of former employees?
A: Agencies are responsible for ensuring that the e-mail (and other records) of former employees is retained in accordance with approved Retention and Disposal Schedules.

My take on this is that as a technology professional, I not only have to identify which messages are FOIA-able, but I also need to implement a long term archiving solution that can accept email messages from my various mail platforms.  Can anyone comment on what solutions they have implemented?  

Comments [4]

  1. I work with Matt over at Casting from the server room. we are currently implementing this from EMC. A nice setup that automatically pulls attachments out of emails and removes files from your outlook Information store after a period of time (greatly increasing performance). It archives right as the email is sent or received so a user can’t delete it before a nightly backup for retention. It also allows for automatically purging data after a set period of time. One caveat is that we already had a EMC san if you don’t already have one it might be “cost prohibitive”

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