School and special districts, along with other governmental entities, are governed by many federal and state laws, including Colorado’s state laws related to public records and their record retention periods. Section 24-80-101, C.R.S. and following, provide the statutory framework for the legal requirements for school boards of education and special district boards of directors to follow in order to determine what public records must be preserved as permanent records, along with what public records may be destroyed and when such destruction may occur. Without having an adopted records retention schedule approved by the Colorado State Archives, no record may be destroyed. This article provides an overview of how to create and adopt a records retention schedule for your local government entity so that records may then legally be destroyed, as well as reviews the benefits of establishing the retention schedule.
What is a records retention schedule? A records retention schedule lists all records maintained by the school or special district, along with how long each record must be maintained. The schedule sets forth which records must be retained permanently and which others can be destroyed once they have exceeded the minimum retention period. The records retention schedule acts as the legal authorization by the State Archives and State Auditor to then destroy the non-permanent records.
What is the minimum retention period? A minimum retention period is the shortest amount of time a record must be kept before it is destroyed. Minimum retention periods will vary by record type.
How are the minimum retention periods developed? Minimum record retention periods are based on state or federal laws or regulations. Some laws and regulations set specific retention periods. However, for most records, the Colorado State Archives, along with the school or special district, will evaluate the legal, fiscal, administrative, and informational value of the record in order to arrive at the approved minimum retention period.
Individual records retention schedule or model records retention schedule? School and special districts may develop their own records retention schedule by reviewing all of their records and determining retention periods for each. Alternatively, a school or special district may choose to adopt the appropriate model records retention schedule that has been developed by the State Archives. (The State Archives has model retention schedules for school districts, special districts, municipalities, and other governmental entities.) The respective model records retention schedule may be adopted in its current form or with amendments to make it slightly more individualized to the specific school or special district.
One key difference in the adoption of an individual schedule versus the model schedule (aside from the enormous amount of time it may take to thoroughly develop the individualized schedule) is that the State Archive’s model retention schedule is automatically updated with changes to minimum retention periods. The local district need not take any further action in order to effect those changes of the model schedule, while individualized schedules will not be automatically updated. In using an individualized schedule, the school or special district is responsible for reviewing and updating the schedule, and also must gain approval from the State Archives for each update.
What is the process to adopt the model records retention schedule? The board of education or board of directors will pass a specific resolution to adopt the model records retention schedule. After such approval, the resolution is provided to the State Archives with a request for approval. While approval of the model retention schedule with no changes is more of a formality, if any changes were made to the model schedule (e.g. lengthening a retention schedule or adding types of records not listed in the model schedule), then approval by the State Archives must be for its acceptance and inclusion on the State Archives website directory. Following approval, the school or special district is added to the State Archives website as having adopted the model retention schedule.
A records retention schedule is in place, now what? Follow it! The school or special district may now legally destroy records that have been maintained for the minimum retention periods as set forth in the approved schedule.
Other benefits of having an established retention schedule include such things as being able to easily respond to a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request for non-permanent records that have been destroyed pursuant to the schedule with a denial of the request because there is no reason to spend time searching for a record when it has been destroyed. Additionally, having the approved records retention schedule will bring district into compliance with the Colorado Consumer Protection Act requirements regarding the destruction of personal identifying information.
There are some great hidden benefits of adopting a records retention schedule. Though most importantly, it will allow for the legal destruction of non-permanent records and to establish which records are permanent and must be maintained.