Guide to Accessing Public Records of the
School District of Philadelphia
The School District recognizes the importance of public records as the records of the transactions and activities of the School District and the repository of information about the School District. Policy 801 identifies the procedures for requesting and receiving access to public records from the Board of Education and the School District of Philadelphia (collectively referred to as the “School District”) pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know-Law (“RTKL”), 65 P.S. §§ 67.101, et seq.
Student Records: The RTKL is only for access to public records. For student records you must submit the request through https://philasd.scriborder.com/
Data Requests: If you seek data in order to conduct research studies, evaluations, and surveys involving students, teachers, principals, and administrators, you should make your request through the District Performance Office
Information on website: In addition to providing public records through formal requests made under the RTKL, to facilitate access to documents of public interest and reduce the need for RTKL requests, the School District instituted an Open Data Initiative providing easy access to a large volume of information such as:
• Employee, school and budget information – https://www.philasd.org/performance/programsservices/open-data/
• Contract awards over $25,000 – https://www.philasd.org/procurement/
• School District meeting minutes –https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/meetingmaterials/
• Charter School information – https://www.philasd.org/charterschools/
I. MAKING REQUESTS
How do I make a request for information?
A written request to the School District under the RTKL must be addressed to the School District Open Records Officer (“ORO”):
Kristina Helmers, Esq.
Open Records Officer
The School District of Philadelphia
Office of General Counsel
440 N. Broad Street, Suite 313
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Telephone: (215) 400-5247
Facsimile: (215) 400-4121
If you address your request to anyone other than the School District’s ORO, your request may not be processed as a RTKL request or there may be a delay in processing your request until such time as it is received by the ORO.
Do I need to use a form to make a request?
Not every request for records requires the use of a form; however, the use of a form is recommended. The failure to use a form may delay the processing of your request. The School District encourages requesters seeking records pursuant to the RTKL to use the standard request form available at the website of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.
Am I required to provide my name, address/email address and telephone number?
The RTKL does not require agencies to respond to anonymous requests. Therefore, if you do not provide a name and either a mailing address or email address, the School District will not process your request under the RTKL. You are not required to provide a telephone number; however, if the ORO has questions about your request and cannot reach you via telephone or email, a response to your request may be delayed.
When are RTKL requests accepted?
The regular business hours of the RTKL Office are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Any RTKL request received by the ORO after the close of regular business hours or on a day the School District administrative offices are closed or partially closed shall be deemed to have been received by that officer on the following business day.
How detailed does my request need to be?
Requests for records must be sufficiently specific to enable the School District to ascertain which records are being requested. The Commonwealth Court has determined that in order for a request to be considered “sufficiently specific” it must:
A. identify the transaction or activity of the School District for the record(s) being sought;
B. identify a discrete group of documents by type (email, manual, contract, invoice, etc.) and, if applicable, recipient, and;
C. identify a finite time period for which records are sought.
A RTKL request may be denied if it does not identify the records requested with sufficient specificity. The ORO may contact the Requester to obtain clarification or additional information to aid the ORO in responding to the request. The request should contain a telephone number, fax number or e-mail address where the ORO may reach the Requester.
Is my Request itself a “public record?”
RTKL requests received by the School District are considered a “public record” and such requests may be made available for public access upon request. Do not provide social security numbers, student identification numbers or other nonpublic information on your request. If you provide a home address and believe that your home address should be redacted, you must notify the ORO at the time you submit your request.
When can I expect a response?
Unless a longer period of time is needed and communicated to the Requester by an “interim response,” the RTKL requires that the School District respond to a RTKL request within five (5) business days.
How are business days calculated?
For purposes of determining the end of the five (5) business day period, the day that a RTKL request is received is not counted. The first day of the five business day period is the School District’s next business day.
A business day does not include a Saturday or Sunday; a day when the administrative offices of the School District are closed due to a holiday; full day closing of offices pursuant to management directives; a day when the office of the School District are closed due to a natural disaster; or a day when the offices of the School District are closed at the request or direction of a local, State, or Federal law enforcement agency or official.
Is the School District permitted to extend its deadline to respond beyond the five days?
Yes. However, the School District makes every effort to provide a final response to a RTKL request within five (5) business days. If one or more specific conditions exist, the RTKL permits an agency to extend its deadline to respond by up to thirty (30) calendar days. The School District will provide an interim response extending its deadline to respond if any of the following apply:
1. The responsive record requires or may require redaction of nonpublic information;
2. The RTKL request requires retrieval of a record from a remote location;
3. A response within the five (5) business day period cannot be accomplished due to staffing limitations;
4. A legal review is necessary to determine whether the record requested is subject to access under the RTKL;
5. The Requester has not complied with the School District Policy 801 regarding access to public records;
6. The Requester must prepay fees which are required to fulfill the RTKL request and which are estimated to exceed $100;
7. The extent or nature of the request precludes a response within the required time period.
What can I expect from the School District’s final response?
There are three possible final responses permitted by the RTKL. The request may be: 1) granted; 2) denied; or 3) granted in part and denied in part. If the School District fails to make a timely response the Request is deemed to be denied.
If a request is denied in whole or in part, the School District will issue a final written response that will include an explanation of the procedure for the Requester to appeal, if the Requester chooses to do so. The written denial will also set forth the specific reasons for the denial, including a citation of supporting legal authority.
Non-production of records due to the fact that a good faith search by the School District does not produce any responsive records is not a denial of access.
III. RECEIVING RECORDS
How will I receive the requested information?
The ORO may respond by providing a Requester with access to a record either: 1) by providing access to inspect the records in the offices of the School District, 2) by sending a copy (electronically or via standard mail) to the Requester, or 3) by notifying the Requester that the record is available through publicly accessible electronic means. If you have a preference, you should indicate such preference on your Request. The School District will provide the record in the manner requested so long as the record exists in the medium requested.
Is it possible to first inspect the records and then decide which, if any, I would like duplicated?
If the Requester desires only to inspect the records, the ORO will notify the Requester of the availability of the records and advise the Requester to schedule an appointment to conduct the inspection. The School District has the discretion to determine the date, time, building(s) and room(s) that will be used to provide a Requester with access to the School District’s public records. If the records contain both public and nonpublic information and require redaction, the Requester will be charged $0.25 per page for the records made available for inspection.
If after inspecting the records, you decide that you would like copies, the School District may either require that you submit a new RTKL request for copies or, in its discretion, can make copies immediately available. The decision is largely determined by the number of pages that are requested and the availability of staff to make duplications at the time of the inspection.
What if I cannot access a record made available on the School District’s or other website?
If the Requester writes to the School District within 30 days of the date on the School District’s response that the Requester is unable or unwilling to access the information electronically, the School District will provide the records in paper format, upon payment for the same.
Is the School District required to scan or fax copies of documents that exist only in hard copy?
No. An agency is not required to convert a paper document into an electronic document. The School District will provide a public record to a Requester in the medium requested if the record exists in that medium (electronic or hard copy). Otherwise, the record will be provided in the medium in which it exists unless the School District exercises its discretion to convert the document. If a public record only exists in one medium, the School District is not required to convert that public record to another medium, except that if the public record is only available in an electronic form, the School District must convert the record to paper if the Requester so requests.
Is the School District required to compile information for me?
No. The School District is not required to create a public record that does not already exist at the time of the Request, nor is it required to compile, maintain, format, or organize a public record in a manner in which the School District does not currently do so.
How much does the School District charge for copies of records?
Paper copies: The fee for duplication of records is determined by the Office of Open Records. The fee schedule is posted on the Office of Open Records’ website. Unless otherwise directed by statute or the OOR’s fee schedule, the School District will charge $.25 per page for paper duplication of a standard 8 1/2” x 11” document or when electronic copies require redaction. The School District may waive duplication fees at its discretion. The School District does not charge for electronic copies of documents that do not require redaction. However, if the request is voluminous and access cannot be provided via email the School District will charge the actual cost of the compact disc or flashdrive used to provide the information.
The School District is asking that I prepay for records before it will provide a final response granting or denying access. What happens if I do not send prepayment?
If the estimated fees that are required to fulfill the RTKL request exceed $100, upon request from an agency a Requester must pay the estimated amount in advance. The request for prepayment will specify a reasonable period of time in which the Requester must make such prepayment. Failure to make the estimated payment by the date required by the School District in its interim response will result in the request being deemed withdrawn and no records will be duplicated or produced.
Is the School District permitted to require that I pay for copies before sending me the records?
In its final response, the School District has the discretion to produce the records and invoice for the amount due or to require payment prior to actual provision of the records. If the School District requires payment prior to providing the copies, the School District’s final response will specify a reasonable period of time in which the Requester must pay the duplication fee. Failure to make the required payment by the date specified by the School District in its final response will result in the request being deemed withdrawn and no records will be duplicated or produced.
The School District denied my request because I owe duplication fees from a prior request. Is that permitted?
The RTKL provides that all applicable fees must be paid in order to receive access to the record requested. Any Requester who has unpaid amounts outstanding to the School District, in relation to a RTKL request where access to the record was granted by the School District and the record was duplicated, will not be granted access to records sought in future RTKL requests until such prior amounts due have been paid in full.
What if I disagree with the School District’s denial of my Request?
When a request is denied or deemed denied, whether in whole or in part, the Requester may file an appeal with the Office of Open Records (OOR). An appeal form is available on the OOR’s website.