The South Dakota Public Records Act - A Brief Refresher for School Districts

What is the South Dakota Public Records Act?

In 2009, the South Dakota Legislature modified South Dakota’s public records laws by enacting the South Dakota Public Records Act. The Act’s most significant element was adopting the “presumption of openness” standard for public records. The Act reversed long-standing state policy that public records did not need to be released unless state law required the records to be “kept.” The Act’s approach now presumes that all government records are open unless specific exceptions apply.   

What is the Public Records Act’s purpose?

The Act’s fundamental purpose is to require public bodies to disclose their records to citizens and interested persons, except for specific exceptions. South Dakota’s “presumption of openness” is straight-forward and succinct: "Except as otherwise expressly provided by statute, all citizens of this state, and all other persons interested in the examination of the public records . . . are hereby fully empowered and authorized to examine such public record. . . ."

Does the Public Records Act apply to school districts?

Yes. The Act provides that “[e]ach government entity or elected or appointed government official shall . . . make available to the public for inspection . . . all public records held by that entity or official.” This definition includes South Dakota’s public school districts.  

What is a “public record” under the Public Records Act?

The Act’s definition of a “public record” is expansive and the scope of government entities covered is broad. Except where another statute, ordinance, or rule expressly provides, a “public record” includes “all records and documents, regardless of physical form, of or belonging to this state, any county, municipality, political subdivision, or tax-supported district in this state, or any agency, branch, department, board, bureau, commission, council, subunit, or committee of any of the foregoing.” The Act also clarifies that “[d]ata which is a public record in its original form remains a public record when maintained in any other form.” 

Are there exceptions to the Public Records Act’s “presumption of openness”?

Yes. The Act includes twenty-seven specific exceptions to the “presumption of openness,” including:  

         (1) student records;

         (2) medical records;

         (3) trade secrets, research, proprietary or commercial information;

         (4) privileged records and attorney work product;

         (5) law enforcement records;

         (6) appraisal information and negotiation records regarding a purchase or sale of property by a governmental entity;

         (7) public employee personnel records;

         (8) safety and security records;

         (9) South Dakota Commission on Gaming records;  

       (10) personally identifiable information of private citizens;

       (11) identities of library patrons;

       (12) certain records of public officials/employees;

  (13-14) archaeological, historical, or paleontological sites and records;

       (15) employment applications and related materials;

       (16) personally identifiable information held by government entity;

       (17) emergency or disaster response plans;

       (18) test questions and answers;

       (19) certain personal records of a public official or employee;

       (20) records closed by order, contract, or stipulation in court proceeding;

       (21) certain personally identifiable information held by the Department of Game, Fish & Parks;

       (22) records which constitute an unreasonable release of personal information;

       (23) records which could endanger the life or safety of any person;

       (24) certain internal agency records;

       (25) Department of Correction’s juvenile commitment records;

       (26) inmate disciplinary records; and

       (27) records closed by state statute, federal statute, or as necessary to participate in federal programs and benefits.