Survey: Schools at Risk for E-Discovery-related Litigation

The findings reveal that IT administrators are hazy on preparedness for federal e-discovery rules in K-12 school districts.

A new survey of IT administrators of kindergarten through 12th grade schools indicates that 90 percent of them have no plan in place to handle the newly mandated retention of electronically stored information by the federal court system.

The findings came as a result of a customer survey released May 29 by storage vendor CommVault in Oceanport, N.J.

The amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (PDF), went into effect on Dec. 1, 2006. The new regulations, sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2006, require organizations—for-profit and non-profit alike—to be able to quickly find such data when required by the federal court.

This means that every electronic document stored by an organization—e-mail, instant messages, financials, voice mail and all text and graphical documents—must be retrievable in a "reasonable" amount of time, which the court further defined as 30 days.

In the CommVault survey, only two-thirds of responding IT managers indicated that they are even aware of the amended federal court rules.

Further, the survey revealed that 90 percent of schools have yet to initiate an FRCP compliance-preparedness plan.

Eighty Percent Unclear on the Concept

Eighty percent of the administrators surveyed said they are unclear about their governing school districts e-discovery policies, CommVault said.

Overall, the survey results demonstrate a marked disconnect in school district awareness of the issues surrounding FRCP rules and the legal discovery preparedness of school districts, a CommVault spokesperson said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about an online resource center aiding e-discovery.

"The new FRCP amendments make ESI subject to legal review and require holders of data to produce that data when needed," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research Inc.

"The most important impact of the new FRCP amendments on organizations is that ESI, which will figure more prominently in litigation than ever before, needs to be managed properly."

While most school districts are fully aware of legal amendments, many of them have yet to establish policies to address electronic discovery for schools. By not appropriately complying and managing their ESI according to federal rules, district administrators are exposing their school districts to potential litigation risk and costly legal action, the spokesperson said.

Risk Exposure a Serious Problem

"The new federal rules represent an urgent call to action for educators and school information technology officers to understand how information that is sent and received on school-owned equipment might be used in litigation," said Mike Ivanov, senior director and head of CommVaults Archive Center of Excellence.

"The cost of litigation can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially draining public school districts of valuable education funds. To reduce the impact of such threats, school technology leaders need to become students of these new rules themselves and take stock of their e-mail policies and existing technologies to ensure compliance."

The need to keep tabs on e-mail, instant messages and other digital communications produced by employees and students is impacting IT purchasing decisions across the spectrum of new technology adoption.

eSchool News (December 2006) reported that the ability to maintain compliance is forcing school leaders to re-evaluate their digital storage technologies and how they search through and retrieve information.

Based on the survey results, top priorities for FRCP compliance among school districts are mixed, ranging from the tactical—overcoming cost and resource barriers (90 percent) and reducing the administrative burden of managing e-mail and archive needs (60 percent)—to the conceptual—mitigating risk (60 percent) and learning what FRCP means for a given school district (60 percent).

For more information on CommVault and its survey, go here.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...