What is the Public Information Act?
Enacted in 1970, Maryland's Public Information Act (MPIA), grants the public a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens. The MPIA covers public agencies and officials in Maryland to include the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).
What is a Public Record?
A “public record” is defined under MPIA GP § 4-101 as the original or copy of any documentary material in any form, to include written materials, books, photographs, photocopies, films, microfilms, records, tapes, computerized records, maps, and drawings created or received by the HCPSS in connection with the transaction of public business. Records covered under the MPIA are only those in existence at the time of the request. Requests to write, generate, or create documents, as well as answer direct questions not contained in a document, are not covered under the MPIA.
Who can submit a Public Information Act request?
Can I have access to all HCPSS records?
The MPIA attempts to balance the public’s right to access government records with other policies that respect the privacy and confidentiality of certain information. Records may be withheld or redacted if confidential by law or exempt from disclosure under the MPIA, such as those subject to attorney-client privilege, court orders, medical records, personnel records, confidential commercial and financial information, and student records (protected by both the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and the MPIA under GP § 4-313). Other records may be determined by HCPSS to be contrary to the public interest after careful consideration of the possible consequences of disclosure, such as pre-decisional and deliberative discussions, ongoing research projects, emergency procedures, and academic testing data. In certain cases, a “person in interest” – typically the subject of the document or information as defined by MPIA GP § 4-101 (g) – may have a greater right of access to otherwise exempt documents.
If a request is denied for access to HCPSS records, you will be notified as to the specific statutory provisions for each exemption.
How do I submit a request?
The most efficient and timely way to submit a formal MPIA request to HCPSS is through our online tracking system. Under Submit an MPIA Request you will be asked to provide contact information and a description of the requested documents. Once submitted, the HCPSS MPIA Representative will post a summary of the request in the tracking system, at which time you will receive an email confirmation from firstname.lastname@example.org (please ensure this email address is allowed through your individual email client’s spam filter) with a link to your summary request page. As updates to the status of your request are made in the tracking system, including sharing responsive documents, you will also receive updates via email.
Applications submitted after 4:30 p.m. on a business day, on a weekend, on a school system holiday or day the Public Information Office is closed will not be considered received until the next business day.
If sending a request via mail to HCPSS, please use the mailing address below. Mailed requests will be entered into the online system for tracking purposes upon receipt. Supplying an email address with your request will allow for ease of correspondence.Howard County Public School System
Attention: Public Information Office, PIA Request
10910 Clarksville Pike
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
When will my request be responded to?
HCPSS will respond to requests as directed under MPIA GP § 4-203. The timeframe for initial response is within 10 working days from receipt of the request, at which time HCPSS will supply the requested documents, notify you that the requested documents are precluded from disclosure, or let you know the status of locating and reviewing the requested documents to be produced within 30 days of receipt of your request, unless an exemption applies or the requester agrees to an extension.
Will there be fees associated with my request?
Under MPIA GP § 4-206, an official custodian may charge reasonable fees for the search and preparation of records for inspection and copying. The fees for a response will be calculated based on hourly rates of staff and/or attorneys involved by the actual time they will spend on the response. Fees will not be charged for the first two hours of search and preparation. Prior to any response being produced, a cost estimate will be sent to the applicant, who may elect to pay the fees or cancel the MPIA request.
The fee schedule for copying and certifying copies of records is as follows:
- Copies: The fee for each copy is twenty (20) cents per page, if the copy is made on a photocopying machine within the school system. If records are not susceptible to photocopying (for example, punch cards, magnetic tapes, blueprints or microfilm), the fee for copies will be based on the actual cost of reproduction.
- HCPSS makes every attempt to send available documents electronically to reduce copy fees for requesters.
- Certification of Copies: If a person requests that a copy of a record be certified as a true copy, an additional fee of $1.00 per page or, if appropriate, per item shall be charged.
- Minimum Fee Charged: A charge will not be made if the total amount of the fee would be $1.00 or less.
Under MPIA GP § 4-206(e), HCPSS may waive fees or costs assessed for a request if the applicant asks for a waiver and if (1) the applicant is indigent, as that term is defined under the Act, or (2) the official custodian determines that a waiver would be in the public interest.
Can I review records in person?
Yes. After receiving notification of the availability of records, you are invited to schedule a file review with HCPSS’ MPIA Representative.
Where can I learn more about the Public Information Act?
The MPIA can be found in §§ 10-611 to 10-628 of the State Government Article, which is an article within the Maryland Annotated Code. The Maryland Annotated Code is available at local public libraries and online through Maryland’s General Assembly.
The Office of the Attorney General for Maryland also publishes detailed legal analysis of the MPIA, frequently asked questions (similar to those above) regarding the MPIA, and an MPIA Manual which includes sample letters to help you draft your request.