• Rights & Responsibilities

    The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of Stafford County Public Schools under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act

    The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located at § 2.2-3704 et seq. of the  Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials and public employees.

    A public record is any writing or recording – regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording or record in any other format – that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open to the public and may only be withheld if a specific statutory exemption applies.

    The policy of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.

    FOIA Rights

    • Citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both. (Print media must have circulation in the Commonwealth and television/radio stations must broadcast in or into the Commonwealth).

    • Citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.

    • If a citizen of the Commonwealth or representative of the media believes that their FOIA rights have been violated, the citizen or media representative may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, they may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.

    Making a Request for Records from Stafford County Public Schools

    • Records may be requested by U.S. mail, fax, e-mail, in person or over the phone. FOIA does not require that a request be in writing, nor that it specifically state that records are being requested under FOIA.

    • As a practical matter, it may be helpful to both the requestor and the person receiving the request to put the request in writing. This creates a record of the request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records are requested, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, Stafford Schools cannot refuse to respond to a FOIA request if it is not put in writing.

    • A request must identify the records sought with “reasonable specificity.” It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records requested; instead, it requires the requestor to be specific enough so that Stafford Schools can identify and locate the records that are requested.

    • A request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA creates a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to general questions about the work of Stafford County Public Schools, nor does it require Stafford County Public Schools to create a record that does not exist.

    • A requestor may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by Stafford County Public Schools in the regular course of business. For example, if requested records are maintained in an Excel file, the requestor may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail, or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.

    • If Stafford Schools has questions about a request, please cooperate with staff’s efforts to clarify the type of records sought, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Stafford Schools may need to discuss a request to ensure that Stafford Schools understand what records are being sought.

    The Office of Constituent Services is tasked with responding to FOIA requests. To request records from Stafford County Public Schools, contact the FOIA Officer at:

    Dr. James Stemple
    Executive Director of Constituent Services
    31 Stafford Avenue
    Stafford, VA 22554
    (540) 658-6000
    stemplejd@staffordschools.net

    In addition, the FOIA Advisory Council is available to answer questions about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by e-mail at foiacouncil@dls.virginia.gov or by phone at (804) 698-1810 or 1-866-448-4100.

    Stafford County Public Schools’ Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request

    Stafford County Public Schools must respond to a request within five (5) working days of receiving it. “Day One” is considered the day after the request is received. The five working day period does not include weekends or holidays.

    The reason behind a request for public records from Stafford County Public Schools is irrelevant and a requestor does not have to state why they want the records before Stafford Schools respond to the request. FOIA does, however, allow Stafford County Public Schools to require a requestor to provide their name and legal address.

    FOIA requires that Stafford County Public Schools make one of the following responses to a request within the five working day time period:

    1. Stafford Schools provide the records requested in their entirety.

    2. Stafford Schools withhold all of the records requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption or exemptions. If all of the records are being withheld, Stafford Schools must send a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records withheld and state the specific section(s) of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.

    3. Stafford Schools provide some of the records requested, but withhold other records. Stafford Schools cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, Stafford Schools may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide the remainder of the record. Stafford Schools must provide the requestor a written response stating the specific section(s) of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.

    4. Stafford Schools inform the requestor in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist. However, if Stafford Schools knows that another public body has the requested records, the school system must include contact information for the other public body in its response.

    5. If it is practically impossible for Stafford County Public Schools to respond to the request within the 5 work day period, Stafford Schools must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow Stafford Schools seven (7) additional working days to respond to the request, giving Stafford Schools a total of twelve (12) working days to respond to the request.

    If a request is made for a very large number of records and Stafford Schools cannot provide the records within twelve (12) working days without disrupting other organizational responsibilities, the school system may petition the court for additional time to respond to the request. However, FOIA requires that Stafford Schools make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with the requestor concerning the production of the records before the school system formally requests more time.

    Types of Records

    The following is a general description of the types of records held by Stafford Public Schools:

    • Personnel records concerning employees and officials of Stafford Public Schools

    • Scholastic records 

    • Business and finance records

    • Operational records involving support departments such as Technology, Transportation, Facilities, Food Services, etc.

    • Agendas, minutes and other records of the meetings of the School Board and committees appointed by the School Board. This information is also available on the school system's, website at www.staffordschools.net.

    • Records of contracts to which Stafford County Public Schools is a party.

    Commonly Used Exemptions

    The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. Stafford County Public Schools commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions in the Code of Virginia:

    • Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1))

    • Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3))

    • Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6))

    • Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12))

    • Records related to critical incident response (§ 2.2-3705.2 (14))

    • Scholastic records (§ 2.2-3705.4(1) and 20 U.S.C. § 1232g)

    Practice Regarding the Use of Exemptions

    Since exemptions exist in order to protect some compelling public interest, it is inevitable that the school division will need to rely on exemptions in many cases. For that reason, it is the school division’s practice to invoke all exemptions that are applicable to any request for records. This practice ensures that all citizens are treated the same way, to the greatest extent possible.

    • The general policy of Stafford County Public Schools is to invoke the personnel records exemption in those instances where it applies in order to protect the privacy of employees and officials of Stafford County Public Schools.

    • The general policy of Stafford County Public Schools is to invoke the contract negotiations exemption whenever it applies in order to protect Stafford County Public Schools bargaining position and negotiating strategy.

    • The general policy of Stafford County Public Schools is to invoke the scholastic records exemption in those instances where it applies in order to protect the privacy of students and comply with other state and federal laws governing the privacy of student records.

    This notice complies with the posting requirements of Va. Code § 2.2-3704.1.

FOIA Officer

Requests for Video

  • Stafford Schools does not release video. However, requesters may request to view a video clip with an administrator in the student’s school or by filling out the FOIA Request Form.  All video clips require to be prepared according to FERPA. Once the video is prepared, the requestor will be notified by the school administrator or Office of Constituent Services to schedule a time and place to view the video.