The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently released a new white paper, titled School Districts, Data Retention and Federal eDiscovery Rules: The Case for a Full E-mail Archiving Solution Now, which was developed to help education technology leaders understand recent changes to federal laws governing e-mail archiving and data retention, and to increase awareness about the importance of schools acting in accordance with the rules. The white paper underscores the need for a complete e-mail archiving solution, and provides recommendations to school technology leaders for achieving compliance and case studies detailing successful approaches taken by school districts around the country. In addition, the paper sheds light on the policy issues, technology challenges, budget constraints and legal implications facing schools as they work to ensure that their districts are compliant.

"E-mail has transformed the way we all communicate -- educators, schools and school districts included. Because much information is shared electronically and federal laws and judicial interpretations are including electronic communication as subject to legal discovery, it has become increasingly important for schools to make e-mail archiving a critical part of their record-keeping activities," said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN.

"The goal of this new paper and our advocacy efforts on this issue is to provide educators with the information they need to understand what compliance means and how to achieve it," said Donna Boivin, CIO, Springfield Public Schools, Mass. and member of the task force that developed the white paper.

The new white paper on e-mail archiving defines eDiscovery and contrasts it with Open Records laws, highlighting that while many districts have been operating under Open Records for years, eDiscovery is a new issue. The paper also details how the rules were updated following a December 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that amended the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) to include all electronic information -- including e-mail and instant messages -- as subject to legal discovery.

A recent online survey found that 80 percent of school administrators are unclear about their district's policies for the retention of electronically-stored information, including e-mail and instant messages. Two out of three IT administrators responsible for managing backup data and archived messages said they were aware of the newly amended FRCP, and 90 percent said they had yet to initiate an FRCP compliance preparedness plan.

"While we provide case studies in the paper illustrating how some school districts are complying with new regulations, what is really needed is a comprehensive e-mail archiving solution or protocol to help educators ensure that they are operating in compliance with the law," said Jeff Patterson, an industry leader from Gaggle.Net who helped lead the task force that developed the White Paper. "Schools want to be compliant but many educators are unsure of the right steps to take. National leadership is needed on this issue and therefore it is important that CoSN, as the leading voice for district technology leaders, is urging action and educating on this critical issue."

In addition to providing background information about eDiscovery, the new CoSN white paper includes profiles of how some districts are archiving, including in-house, hardware-based solutions and hosted solutions. CoSN also notes that archiving is important for three key reasons -- in the case of a lawsuit, to have backup information for district defense; to ensure vital information can be safeguarded as part of a disaster recovery plan and to maintain an adequate knowledge base.