Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
A public record is any writing or recording—regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format—that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
The Code of Virginia states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
Albemarle County School Board Policy Reference: KBA, Requests for Public Records
Your FOIA Rights
- Citizens have the right to request to inspect and/or receive copies of public records.
- Citizens have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
- If a citizen believes that their FOIA rights have been violated, they may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, citizens may contact the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making a Request for Records
- A citizen may request records from Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) by U.S. Mail, fax, email, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require the requestor to state why they want the records, or that the request be in writing, nor does the requestor need to specifically state that they are requesting records under FOIA.
- From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both the requestor and the person receiving the request for the requestor to put the request in writing. This allows a record of the request to be created. It also gives ACPS a clear statement of what records are being requested, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, ACPS cannot refuse to respond to a FOIA request if the requestor elects not to put the request in writing.
- The request must identify the records being sought with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records being requested; instead, it requires that the requestor be specific enough so that ACPS can identify and locate the records being sought.
- The request must be for existing records or documents. FOIA gives citizens a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where the requestor is asking general questions about the work of ACPS, nor does it require ACPS to create a record that does not exist.
- The requestor may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by ACPS in the regular course of business.
- For example, if a citizen is requesting records maintained in an Excel spreadsheet, the requestor may elect to receive those records electronically, via email or on a USB flash drive, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- If ACPS has questions about the request, the requestor should cooperate with the efforts of staff to clarify the type of records being sought, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but ACPS may need to discuss the request with the requestor to ensure understanding of what records are being sought.
To request records from ACPS, citizens may direct their request to the ACPS FOIA Coordinator:
Strategic Communications Officer
Phone: (434) 972-4049
In addition, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions citizens may have about FOIA:
Phone: (804) 698-1810
Our Responsibilities in Responding to a Request
- ACPS must respond to a request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after the request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
- The reason behind a citizen's request for public records from ACPS is irrelevant, and the citizen does not have to state why they want the records before we respond to the request. FOIA does, however, allow ACPS to require requestors to provide their name and legal address.
- FOIA requires that ACPS make one of the following responses to a request within the five-day time period:
- Provide the requestor with the records that they have requested in their entirety.
- Withhold all of the records that have been requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, ACPS must send the requestor a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows ACPS to withhold the records.
- Provide some of the records that have been requested, but withhold other records. ACPS cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, ACPS may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld and must provide the requestor with the remainder of the record. ACPS must provide the requestor with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- Inform the requestor in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (i.e., ACPS does not have the records the requestor wants). However, if ACPS knows that another public body has the requested records, ACPS must include contact information for the other public body in its response to the requestor.
- If it is practically impossible for ACPS to respond to the request within the five-day period, ACPS must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow ACPS seven additional working days to respond to the request, giving ACPS a total of 12 working days to respond to the request.
- If a citizen makes a request for a very large number of records, and ACPS feels that we cannot provide the records to the requestor within 12 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, ACPS will make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with the requestor regarding an extension of time in which to produce the records. If ACPS and the requestor are unable to reach an agreement, ACPS may petition the court for additional time to respond to the request.
- ACPS may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for the requested records. ACPS shall not impose any extraneous, intermediary or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of ACPS. Any duplicating fee charged by ACPS shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in the Code of Virginia.
- The requestor may have to pay for the records that are requested from ACPS. FOIA allows ACPS to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items such as staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
- If ACPS estimates that it will cost more than $200 to respond to a request, ACPS may require the requestor to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with the request. The five-day response time for a request does not include the time between when ACPS asks for a deposit and when the requestor responds to ACPS.
- The requestor may request that ACPS estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that have been requested. This will allow the requestor to know about any costs upfront or give the requestor an opportunity to modify the request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.
- If the requestor owes ACPS money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, ACPS may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to the new FOIA request.
Types of Records
The following is a general description of the types of records held by ACPS:
- School Board agendas and meeting minutes;
- Records related to contracts into which ACPS has entered; and
- Position descriptions and salary documentation of employees and ACPS officials.
If citizens are unsure whether ACPS has the record(s) they want, they may contact the ACPS FOIA Coordinator:
Strategic Communications Officer
Phone: (434) 972-4049
Commonly Used Exemptions
The Code of Virginia allows ACPS to withhold certain records from public disclosure. ACPS commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia);
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2) of the Code of Virginia) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3) of the Code of Virginia);
- Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6) of the Code of Virginia);
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12) of the Code of Virginia); and
- Scholastic Records (§ 2.2-3705.4 of the Code of Virginia).