data_storageDespite new federal rules mandating that schools, businesses, and other organizations keep tabs on all digital communications produced by their employees, an informal survey of K-12 school districts by data-management company CommVault suggests that most schools still aren’t prepared to meet the requirements.

Eighty percent of those questioned were unclear about their district’s policies for the retention of electronically stored information, including eMail and instant messages, according to CommVault. And though two out of three IT administrators responsible for managing backup data and archived messages in their districts said they were aware of the amended Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), which went into effect in late 2006 (see story: Ruling: Schools must archive eMail), 90 percent said they had yet to initiate an FRCP compliance preparedness plan.

The rules—which state that any entity involved in litigation must be able to produce “electronically stored information” (ESI) during the discovery process, the process in which opposing sides of a legal dispute must share evidence before a trial—could have significant implications for school technology departments, especially in places where technicians routinely copy over backup disks and other information housed on school servers.

CommVault says the results of its informal poll show a marked disconnect between school leaders’ awareness of the issues surrounding FRCP compliance and their preparedness for a lawsuit. By not appropriately managing their electronically stored information according to federal rules, administrators are exposing their districts to potentially costly legal action, the company says.

“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 CommVault’s 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 eMail policies and existing technologies to ensure compliance,” Ivanov added.

(Next page: How to comply with the rules)