Q: We have suspended responses to Public Information Act (PIA) requests during the pandemic as authorized by the Attorney General. We are set to re-open in June for summer school. Does that mean that the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) deadlines start up again?
A: Yes. If your school’s physical offices are now open, each day is considered a business day for calculation of response to a Public Information Act request.
The philosophy behind the Texas Public Information Act is that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of the government and the official acts of public officials and employees. See Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 552.001. Under the TPIA, the District only has ten (10) business days following receipt of the TPIA request to identify any records that should not be disclosed and to request permission from the Attorney General not to release them. See Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 552.225(a). If the District misses the 10-day window of time to ask for the Attorney General’s opinion, then the documents are deemed public and must be made available for inspection by the requestor. See Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 552.221(d).
In light of the Governor’s recent disaster declaration and COVID-19 pandemic, the Attorney General provided guidance regarding calculation of business days. The AG clarified that if a governmental body has closed its physical offices for purposes of a public health or epidemic response, such as is the case with the current COVID-19 pandemic, then such closure days are not business days to be calculated, even if staff continues to work remotely or staff is present but involved directly in the public health or epidemic response. If the District suspended its process in the middle of a PIA request, it will need to consider the Attorney General’s determination of what constitutes a business day in its calculation of continued response time.
The Attorney General’s publication for Calculation of Business Days in light of COVID-19, is available at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/open-government/governmental-bodies/catastrophe-notice/update-calculation-business-days-and-covid-19. This update includes designation of the following as non-business days: holidays, weekends, skeleton crew days, and days on which a government body’s administrative offices are closed. Please contact your local school attorney if you seek additional information or have specific questions regarding PIA requests during the COVID-19 pandemic.