Charter School News & Notes:
"Public Records on Your Personal Cell Phone" 
Today's News
What others do often provides "teachable moments" for the rest of us.  This morning offers us some "coaching" from former UNC Football Coach Butch Davis. (For that we offer a touch of Carolina Blue in this newsletter) 

David Hostetler
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This morning, the Raleigh News & Observer reported the following:  


Judge allows access to business-related calls on Butch Davis' cellphone.

 A State Superior Court judge issued a decision Thursday that appears to pave the way for university-related calls that former UNC-Chapel Hill football Coach Butch Davis made on his personal cellphone to be accessible to lawyers representing the media in a public records lawsuit.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ruled that


"our government officials, including University officials and coaches, are [not] entitled to use the personal cell phone "dodge" to evade the North Carolina Public Records law."


The judge's order is a good reminder of several important legal and practical principles for charter school officials.  


Legal Principles

  • General Coverage. Charter schools and boards are subject to state public records requirements.
  • Public Business Records.  Any records (regular or electronic) that relate to conducting the business of the school are public records, unless otherwise protected by confidentiality exceptions (e.g., student records, certain personnel file information).
  • Personal Devices.  Judges have increasingly held that public records rules extend to personal electronic devices if those devices are used to conduct public business.  (You may recall that former Governor Easley's administration faced the same problem.)
  • Extraction.  Usually, when granting a records request for personal cell phone records or similar types of files (e.g., personal computer files, e-mails), courts will limit access only to those files of a public nature.  This can lead to complicated and time-consuming screening of such records. In cases of "mixed records" (e.g., an e-mail containing both business and personal information) the court will sometimes require extraction of the personal information, and production of the public information.
Practice Points
  • Review Your Practices. School officials need to review their use of personal, as well as school-owned, devices to minimize the risk of an embarrassing and/or illegal public records practice.
  • Policies in Place.  School boards should have Public Records and Acceptable Use Policies that address public records requirements and the relationship and propriety of school and personal device uses.
  • Training & Reminders. School Boards and other officials should be trained in and regularly reminded regarding public records laws.
  • Reverse Confidentiality Issue. There is also an important "reverse issue": the use of school devices for personal use. This can create special problems and also requires review and possible revision of your school's practices and policies.
  • Legal Guidance.  Your school attorney should be involved in guiding your school's records policies and practices. 

We hope Coach Davis' cellphone use offers you some good lessons for your school's operations. 


If we can be of assistance in offering legal counsel, training, and/or policies review or development, please let us know. 

This article is is offered for information only and not as formal legal advice. Readers are urged to consult a school law attorney to address specific legal questions. 


Mr. Hostetler is general counsel for the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association and has specialized in education law since 1994. His clients include over one quarter of the state's charter schools. He is founder and director of Lex-is Services (Chapel Hill, NC) and also teaches education law, policy, and ethics in the School Administration graduate program at Appalachian State University. He may be contacted at or (919) 308-4652.  More information is available at