Senate Bill 944 – What You Need to Know
- What is Senate Bill 944?
Senate Bill 944 is a law that went into effect September 1, 2019. It amends the Public Information Act by adding a definition for temporary custodians and imposing requirements on handling public information in a temporary custodian’s possession.
- What is a temporary custodian?
A temporary custodian is an employee or trustee who created or received public information in the transaction of official business or in their official capacity.
- What does that mean? Who is or may become a temporary custodian?
You are a temporary custodian if you have sent or received communications regarding District business (e.g., grades, volunteering, extracurricular practices, meetings, etc.) and have this information in your possession.
- What does this mean to you?
- Any information in your possession, custody, or control relating to District business belongs to the District, and you have no personal or property rights to it even if it’s stored on your personal device (e.g., your cell phone).
- If asked, you would be required to provide or return that information to the District within a specified period of time.
- Does this mean the District can go through your cell phone?
The District has a duty to make reasonable efforts to obtain public information. If the Public Information Officer (PIO) has a reasonable belief that you have public information on your personal device, the PIO has a duty to use reasonable efforts to retrieve that information.
- What should you do moving forward?
- Refrain from sending any communication related to District business to other employees, parents, students, and/or volunteers using text messaging or emails from your personal account.
- If you receive a communication (e.g., text message or an email to your personal email account) relating to District business, forward the communication to your District email address and then delete it from your personal phone or email.
- The subject line of the email should include the student’s/parent’s/staff member’s name plus a brief explanation, e.g., “J. Doe band practice”.
- If you can’t text, then how do you communicate with employees, students, parents, and volunteers?
You still will have the flexibility to communicate effectively with all of these groups. The key is to use a District-provided or District-approved means, which are outlined below. If you have a question about another form of communication not listed below, please contact the JISD Communications Office.
For internal communications:
- Email: You are encouraged to use your District email to communicate with your colleagues about District business.
- Skype: Skype is available to all district employees through Office 365.
For external communications:
- Email: You are highly encouraged to use your District email to communicate with parents, students, volunteers or others regarding District business.
- GroupMe: GroupMe is available in the app store and imports your contacts using your district email address.
- Class Dojo: Class Dojo is another option which allows for group messaging (an entire class), one-on-one messaging (between a teacher and a parent), sharing of documents/photos/video, etc. Accounts are set up using a District email.
- Remind: Remind is another messaging option and is set up using a District email. There is a limit on the number of recipients in a given group.
- Regular Text: *For text messages on your personal device pertaining to the district, you must create a personal one drive file, screenshot the communication and save in that file before deleting from your phone.
- What about communicating with students?
- Whenever you need to communicate with students in your official capacity (e.g., for class or for an extracurricular function), you must utilize your District email or a District-designated app mentioned in #7.
- You may not text or message students unless through a District-designated form of communication and then, only related to your official capacity.
- Always include a parent, guardian, or supervisor on any communications with students.
- What could happen if you don’t follow this guidance?
- If you were to violate Senate Bill 944 by deleting public information or failing to forward it to the Public Information Officer, you are subject to discipline and penalties under the law, which may include criminal and civil remedies.
- Not complying with District policy or regulations subjects you to disciplinary consequences as set forth in District policies.
- How long does the District have to retain information?
It depends on the information. Some of the most common retention periods include:
- Academic records for grades 9-12: permanently
- Correspondence to and from parents or guardians concerning attendance: as long as administratively valuable
- Records relating to removal to DAEP, suspension, or expulsion, including any correspondence: 5 years
- Records relating to other forms of discipline, including any correspondence: as long as administratively valuable
- Notifications from law enforcement regarding an arrest of a student: destroy at the end of the school year in which the notification was issued. (Remember, Tex. Educ. Code §37.017 prohibits a notification from being attached to a student’s permanent academic record.)
- Examples of correspondence that are not “District business”:
- “What time is lunch?”
- “Happy Birthday!”
- “Happy Holidays!”
- Examples of correspondence that are “District business”:
- “I’m going to be in late tomorrow.”
- “Can you cover for me in the meeting this afternoon?”
- “I’m working on evaluations right now.”
- Remember, any communication or information about a student, parent, or staff member is likely District business and should be preserved.
- Who do you contact if you have questions?
The Public Relations Office serves as the Public Information Office for JISD. If you have any questions, please contact Grace Traylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-586-6511 x 9416. As we receive additional guidance or instructions about implementing the components of SB 944, we will communicate with staff accordingly.