Access to meetings and records for the average citizen is much broader than they may think.
That is the estimation of school officials in Henry and Clayton counties. Political figures, attorneys and news reporters are not the only people with access to information under the Open Records Act, which affords residents rights to a wealth of information about government and public documents and institutions.
Charles White is records custodian for Clayton County Public Schools. Nicole Holcomb is compliance coordinator and records custodian for Henry County Schools.
Both said it is not hard for the average person to get access to information about their neighborhood schools and school district.
Residents have access to all regular and special called meetings of governing bodies, including school boards.
White said there is a range of material considered public record such as emails, documents, contracts and evaluation records. Conversely, there are documents that are not public record, including student records, medical records, certain benefits information and job references information.
Holcomb said some school records already exist in the public forum while some records are requested directly from her office. But other records can be gotten from administrators at the school level.
“Those are routine requests that go to schools,” said Holcomb.
For example, she said a parent asking for his or her child’s educational records is considered a routine request, and it often does not require a formal written letter, just proof of identification.
Records requests handled out of the central administrative offices are typically more formal requests.
“We try to be a customer-friendly central office,” said Holcomb. “We have three days to respond to a records request (by letter notifying a person of the progress).”
Holcomb and White both said they have experienced times when requests have been made for documents that do not exist.
“The district is not required to create a document that doesn’t currently exist,” said White.
He said the district is not allowed to provide certain information such as personal addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers, which all would be redacted from the public view.
Individuals who work for the district or attend school in the district have open access to their own records.
White said personnel files are among those most requested by former employees, media and attorneys.
He said that most records are available to citizens with minimal red tape. But occasionally requests are complex and require a little more work.
“We do request that people put it in writing so that we give them what they ask for,” said White.
“It’s for clarification purposes,” explained Holcomb, “so that I can make sure I’m thoroughly reviewing what the person requested, and I’m actually getting exactly what they requested.”
Clayton County residents can call White at 770-433-2700 ext. 700133. His office is at 1058 Fifth Ave. in Jonesboro. Henry County residents can call Holcomb at 770-957-6601. Her office is at 33 N. Zack Hinton Parkway in Stockbridge.