Charter Schools and Public Records Retention

Charter schools are a relatively recent development in the history of American education.  North Carolina first passed a law authorizing charter schools in 1996, and removed the cap on the total number of charters permitted in the state in 2011.  What makes charter schools unique is that, while they continue to receive public funding as a traditional public school, they are not as heavily regulated as traditional public schools are.  Instead of being operated by the local board of education, they are operated by a private nonprofit corporation.

If charter schools have been “deregulated,” where does that leave regulations concerning public records, public access to information, and records retention?

G.S. 132-1 defines public records as records “made or received … in connection with the transaction of public business.”  Even though they are run by nonprofits, charter schools still use public funds to fill one of the constitutional duties of the State of North Carolina to its citizens, and are overseen by the Office of Charter Schools at the Department of Public Instruction.  This makes the records generated by a charter school public records.

In the most recent legislative session, Governor McCrory signed Senate Bill 793, which goes into further detail on the status of records created by the nonprofits that run charter schools.  The law now explicitly states that these records are public records, and that charter board meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Law.

Since charter school records are public records, and the records of the nonprofit boards are public records, they’re also subject to the standard records retention requirements laid out in G.S. 121-5(b) and 132-3(a)–no public official may dispose of a public record without the permission of the Department of Cultural Resources.  As regular readers of this blog know, the way the Department of Cultural Resources typically grants this permission is through records retention schedules.  What retention schedule, then, should charter schools use?

A charter school is functionally closest to a local education agency, even if it derives its authority differently.  Senate Bill 793 also makes this connection explicit: “The charter school and board of directors of the private nonprofit corporation that operates the charter school shall use the same schedule established by the Department of Cultural Resources for retention and disposition of records of local school administrative units.”

The most recent schedule for Local Education Agencies was published February 19, 1999.  Charter schools should use this schedule when determining which of their records need to be maintained and which may be destroyed.  As always, anyone who has questions on how to use the retention schedule, or has difficulty finding a record on it, can contact one of our Records Management Analysts.

For further information about Senate Bill 793 and how it affects record reporting requirements, please see the August 13, 2014 memo published by the Office of Charter Schools.