What is the N.C. Public Records Law?   North Carolina General Statute Chapter 132 Public Records

What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?   Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

What is Appalachian’s Public Records Policy?  https://policy.appstate.edu/Public_Records_Requests 

What is a public record?

Public record, public records, and public information means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data processing records, artifacts or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by the university. 

Are emails and texts considered public records?

The public records law applies to electronic records of all kinds, including word documents, email, text and voicemail messages, spreadsheets and other electronically stored data. A text message that is made or received by a public employee or official in connection with the transaction of public business is a public record (unless a specific statute exempts the content of the text from the public records law). As with emails, there is no general exemption from the public records laws for information sent or received through text messaging. In fact, text messages should be treated the same as emails under the public records laws.

  • The content of an email — not its location — determines whether it is a public record.
  • Personal (non-work-related) email is not subject to the public records law, even if it is made or received on a public computer or email system. 

How are public record requests submitted?

In order to facilitate an accurate and timely response by the university, an individual or organization seeking public records of the university shall submit the request in writing through the university’s web portal established for that purpose, which can be accessed at http://appstate.nextrequest.com/. An individual who is not able to submit the request in writing through the web portal may contact University Communications or the Office of General Counsel for assistance.

Who will provide the public record information?

University Communications is the principal liaison for all public information requests. A member of the public records team will collaborate with the custodian of the records and then respond to the requestor.

I’m an employee at Appalachian. How should I respond to a public records request?

Appalachian employees who receive a request directly from an individual should forward the request to University Communications and respond to the requestor by directing them to the web portal.

 Who has the right to access public records?

Anyone can request access; the right is not limited to citizens or constituents of the agency. Any person can inspect or obtain copies from a government agency during reasonable business hours and under reasonable supervision. The individual requesting the public records does not have to give a reason why they wish to see the record. The custodian cannot deny access based on the intended use. Anyone who is denied access to public records may seek a court action to compel the university to release the desired records.  

 Is the university permitted to withhold some records?

Certain information is confidential under state or federal law and not subject to disclosure. The custodian must separate out or redact any confidential information from otherwise accessible public records prior to inspection and distribution of requested records. Any questions regarding the confidentiality of records or portions of records must be directed to the Office of General Counsel prior to disclosure of such records. The most common exceptions to disclosure include, but are not limited to, the following types of information:

  1. Personnel Records — Most information in an individual's personnel record is confidential under the State Human Resources Act, N.C.G.S. Chapter 126, but certain information about each employee is open to public inspection under N.C.G.S. 126-23. The Office of Human Resources maintains separate records containing public information and provides that information upon request. Information considered public
  2. Students' academic, medical and counseling records — State law mandates that students’ medical and counseling records are confidential. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as amended, restricts disclosure of a student’s education records, but allows the release of directory information unless the student files a request that it not be released (“privacy block”). Please see the Policy Statement on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended for the definition of directory information. Before releasing directory information about any student, the employee receiving the request must consult with the university’s Office of the Registrar to determine whether a student has placed a privacy block on their directory information. FERPA provides other exceptions for disclosure, including disclosure with the written consent of the student. Public education records Public Directory Information.
  3. Library user records — State law N.C.G.S. 125-19 prohibits a library from disclosing “any library record that identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific materials, information, or services, or as otherwise having used the library, except … (1) when necessary for the reasonable operation of the library; (2) upon written consent of the user; or (3) pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by law."
  4. Patent applications and other documents that contain trade secrets as defined in state law.
  5. Certain contract or bid records prior to a final contract.
  6. Attorney–client communications and trial preparation materials.
  7. Certain criminal investigation and law enforcement records.
  8. Crisis/emergency infrastructure and information.* see below
  9. Minutes of closed sessions of public bodies.

* Emergency information: University Communications, coordinating with the appropriate administrative officials identified in the Emergency Management Program, will release factual information through news releases, briefings or an official spokesperson.

 How long does the university have to respond to a request?

The response time will vary on a case-by-case basis. The university will respond as systematically as possible based on factors including the availability of records, the complexity of the request, the volume of materials involved, the number of requests ahead of it in the queue, the priority order of the request in cases in which a requestor has submitted multiple requests, and the time required to review the materials for possible redactions to protect the privacy rights of students and/or employees or other information deemed confidential under federal or state law.

The process of gathering potential public records often involves queries to multiple individuals and units across the university as part of a good faith effort to identify all responsive records, including email correspondence, memos, budget materials and the like.

Under North Carolina law, the university must produce the public records “as promptly as possible.” There is often a misconception that state law requires copies of public information to be produced within 10 days upon receipt of the written request. That is not the case. What is considered “as promptly as possible” will vary depending on the volume of documents sought by the requestor. In certain cases, the records can be produced in fewer than 10 days. However, large or complex requests may take much longer to fulfill.

 How does the university prioritize requests and responses?

Generally, the university processes public records requests on a first-in, first-out basis. The university reserves the right to make exceptions when deemed essential.

When portions of a request response are available, these are generally provided in installments as they become available. Some requestors who have made large-volume requests may receive multiple partial responses over time.

 Are there any fees related to public records requests?

Under the North Carolina Public Records Law, public agencies are authorized to charge minimal fees to cover the actual cost of reproducing public records or public information.

The university may charge a fee for searching for, gathering and copying documents that are public records. Copying costs are charged at 10 cents per black and white page after the first 50 pages for requestors who ask for hard copies.

Requestors will be notified in advance of any service fees that will be assessed for cases involving extensive information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance exceeding more than four hours. The hourly rate is $18. However, the time spent for identifying and gathering the records, or information from existing public records, will be included.

The Public Records staff will provide a requestor with a written estimate and ask if he or she agrees to pay the charge. The requester may also choose to narrow the scope of the request. The university may not include the actual cost of redacting legally privileged or confidential information in calculating the service fee. However, the time spent for identifying and gathering potential public records will be included.

The university drew from similar provisions in the policies for the UNC General Administration, UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State and UNC Wilmington. Other UNC campuses also charge requestors for large volumes of public records.