Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Access to VDOE Information
- The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), at § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia guarantees citizens of the commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public meetings and public records held by public bodies, public officials and public employees.
- A public record is any writing or recording – regardless of whether it is in a paper, electronic, audio, video or 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, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
- Documents including, but not limited to, data submissions, emails, reports and other correspondence submitted to VDPE are subject to FOIA and must be released in response to a FOIA request unless the records are exempt as specifically provided by law.
For a list of the data that is collected, including dates of the collections, refer to the Calendar of Data Collections (XLS).
- FOIA provides for the right to: request to inspect and/or receive copies of public records, request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance, file a petition in district or circuit court regarding FOIA violations.
Please note: Local school divisions maintain and store individual student transcript and school records. VDOE does not possess these documents. For school division and school contact information, see Education Directories contact page.
Requesting VDOE Records
- You may request records by U.S. mail, fax, email, in person, or over the phone.
- FOIA does not require written requests, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA. While written requests may be helpful to create a record of your request and provide clarity about the requested records, VDOE cannot refuse to respond to verbal FOIA requests.
- Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
- Your request must ask for records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of VDOE.
- You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the Department of Education in the regular course of business.
For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via email or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but your cooperation will help the process if we need to discuss your request with you to clarify the type of records you seek or attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request.
To Request Records
To request records from VDOE, contact:
Virginia Department of Education
P.O. Box 2120
Richmond, VA 23218-2120
Phone: (804) 225-2092
(There may be a cost associated with the records you request, see Costs, below.)
VDOE's Response to Your Request
- VDOE must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
- The reason behind your request for public records from VDOE is irrelevant, and we cannot ask you why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow VDOE to ask you to provide your name and legal address.
- FOIA requires that VDOE make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
- We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- We withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
- We provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- If it is practically impossible for VDOE to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
- If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
In accordance with § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia, a public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records and shall make all reasonable efforts to supply the requested records at the lowest possible cost. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. Prior to conducting a search for records, the public body shall notify the requester in writing that the public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for requested records and inquire of the requester whether he would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the supplying of the requested records as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code.
- You may have to pay for the records that you request from VDOE. The Virginia FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. Actual charges could include items such as staff time spent searching for the requested records, reviewing records, redacting records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
- If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit before proceeding with your request.
- You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any estimated costs upfront, and give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs, if so desired.
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure based upon certain legal exemptions. VDOE commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
- Scholastic records (§ 2.2-3705.4 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
- 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))
- The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- Records related to investigative notes (§ 2.2-3705.5 (4))
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, a state agency, is an office with the expertise to help resolve disputes over Freedom of Information issues: email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone at 804-698-1810 or toll-free 1-866-448-4100.
Public Comment Form
To provide feedback to the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council regarding the quality of assistance you received from a public body in regard to your request for public records, visit FOIA Forms and Sample Letters and download the Public Comment Form.