Office of Communications and Community Engagement

MSDE Public Information Act Frequently Asked Questions

MSDE Public Information Act

What is a Public Record?

A public record is defined 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 Department in connection with the transaction of public business.

Who can submit a PIA request?

Anyone — citizens, corporations, associations, public interest groups, private individuals, and universities — can submit PIA requests with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).

Can I have access to all MSDE records?

The PIA provides for access to most Department records. Certain records are privileged by law or exempt from disclosure and must be withheld. Examples include, but are not limited to, records containing attorney-client advice and attorney work product, student records, medical records, or personnel records.

Other records may be withheld. Examples include, but are not limited to, investigatory records and inter- and intra-agency memoranda and letters. If a requester is denied access to any MSDE Records, he or she will be notified as to the specific statutory provisions for each exemption and for challenging the denial procedures.

The requester also will be notified if files have been lost or destroyed in accordance with MSDE filing and retention schedules.

Will I be charged a fee for getting records?

The PIA limits fees to standard charges for direct document search, review, and duplication. Also, the PIA specifies that requesters receive the first two hours of search and preparation time without charge.

The term "direct costs" means those expenditures the Department actually incurs while obtaining , reviewing, and duplicating documents to respond to a PIA request. Direct costs may include the costs of the employees performing the work, per page copy costs, or computer programming. Not included in direct costs are overhead expenses such as costs for space, heating, or lighting in the facility where records are stored.

MSDE has established a fee of $.50 per copy for duplication, with the first 50 copies produced at no charge.

The term "search" includes all time spent looking, both manually and electronically for material that is responsive to a request. ‘Search’ can also include a line-by-line or page-by-page identification of materials to determine if those materials or portions thereof are responsive to the request.

The term "duplication" refers to the process of making a copy of a document in response to a PIA request. Such copies can take the form of paper copy, audiovisual, or machine-readable documentation (e.g., magnetic tape or disc), among others. The Department will provide copies in the same format as kept within the Department unless otherwise specified by the requester.

The term "preparation" refers to the process of examining documents located in response to a PIA request to determine whether one or more of the statutory exemptions require withholding. It also includes the processing of documents for disclosure, such as redacting portions which are not available for release.

In order to be as responsive as possible to PIA requests while minimizing unwarranted costs, requesters should indicate the maximum amount of fees they are willing to pay.

The Department will make every effort to accurately estimate the costs associated with the request. However, the Department is not bound by the estimate and may charge fees that exceed the estimate. The requester will be provided with justification for the fees. Generally, advance payment of the fees will be requested.

Fee Waivers

Requests for a fee waiver or reduction in fees should be submitted in writing to the Department. The Department may grant a fee waiver if the Department determines that a fee waiver is in the best interest of the public.

Decisions to waive or reduce fees are made on a case-by-case basis.

Where can I learn more about the Public Information Act?

The PIA can be found in §§ 4-101 to 4-601 of the General Provisions Article, which is an article within the Maryland Annotated Code. The Maryland Annotated Code is available at local public libraries.

More information on the Maryland Public Information Act can be found on the Maryland Attorney General’s website - Maryland Public Information Act.


Lora Rakowski
Senior Executive Director, Office of Communications and Community Engagement
Office: (410) 767-0486