LOS LUNAS — After some higher-level employees with Los Lunas Schools were accused of violating the Inspection of Public Records Act by deleting text messages, the board of education is seeking to address the matter through possible implementation of policy.
IPRA is a New Mexico law that provides the public open access to almost all public records in state and local government.
At the Aug. 8 LLS Board of Education meeting, the district’s attorney, Roxie De Santiago, advised the board to discuss creation of policy to retain text messages as they continue to work through revising and reviewing the district’s policy manual.
“Electronic communications (including records made with other software and sent in email) which are sent or received by the Board or district employees pertaining to the business of the school may be subject to public disclosure and inspection as public records …” the district’s policy manual states.
De Santiago said an issue that has come up frequently in IPRA requests received by LLS is whether electronic messages employees receive as text messages on cell phones would fall under this sort of policy.
“It bears serious consideration and serious discussion in terms of how a district should address those text messages, particularly when those text messages concern discussions conducting the business of (LLS),” De Santiago said.
The attorney said she’s had many discussions on the topic with some members of the LLS cabinet and Interim Superintendent Deborah Elder, along with attorneys across the state.
“This area is, in fact, a gray area,” said De Santiago. “There is current pending litigation on the issue of whether or not text messages are public records and should be saved.”
De Santiago concluded with a recommendation to the board that text messages be saved, especially if employees are conducting business in those text messages, and there be a policy that addresses this.
In response to an IPRA request for text messages of five upper-level administrators, De Santiago said to Los Lunas local Monique Dereta in May, through an email, “It is the practice of the Los Lunas Schools and their employees to delete texts as received or very soon thereafter.
“There are no responsive documents because none are maintained or held on behalf of the public body. In the absence of a policy, the requested text messages are not public record as defined in (the Inspection of Public Records Act.)’”
“What I want to do is separate practice and policy because we can’t enforce practices,” said LLBOE board member Bryan Smith. “We can only enforce policies, so we need to make sure we have a policy that says what we do with our electronic communications.”
In June, Melanie Majors, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, sent a letter to LLS concerning noncompliance with deadlines and the deletion of text messages which she believes to be violations of IPRA.
The letter addresses the complaint received by NMFOG from Dereta. Majors emphasized in her letter that text messages from public officials are considered public record, even if it is on their personal device.
“IPRA only mentions a few and very specific exceptions under select qualified circumstances where a record is not to be disclosed, and the legal system has made it clear that if a government official is using their own electronic device, and the public’s business is on that device, the record is subject to disclosure,” Majors wrote in the letter.
Board president Tina Gracia said they will have discussion, review and a possible vote on this topic and more at the next policy meeting on Sept. 12.
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.