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Home > About NOVA > Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Virginia Freedom of Information Act - Rights and Responsibilities


The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 2.2-3700 et. seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.

A public record is any writing or recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.

The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.

Your FOIA Rights

  • You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  • You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.

How to Request Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Records

  • You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA. From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect to not put it in writing.
  • Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
  • Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of NOVA, nor does it require the NOVA to create a record that does not exist.
  • You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by NOVA in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
  • If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.

FOIA Contact

To request records from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) or ask questions about requesting records, you may contact:

Therman Coles
Director – Office of Legal Affairs
3924 Pender Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22030
Phone: (703) 323-3266
Email: tcoles@nvcc.edu

In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA.

The Council may be contacted by email at foiacouncil@leg.state.va.us, or by phone at 804.225.3056, toll free 1.866.448.4100.

NOVA's Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request

  • NOVA must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
  • The reason behind your request for public records from NOVA is irrelevant, and NOVA cannot ask you why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow NOVA to ask you to provide your name and legal address.
  • FOIA requires that NOVA make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
    • 1. NOVA provides you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
    • 2. NOVA  withholds all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, NOVA must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows NOVA to withhold the records.
    • 3. NOVA provides some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. NOVA cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, NOVA may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. NOVA must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
    • 4. If it is practically impossible for NOVA to respond to your request within the five-day period, NOVA must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
  • If you make a request for a very large number of records, and NOVA feels that NOVA cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, NOVA may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that NOVA makes a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before NOVA goes to court to ask for more time.

Cost

  • You may have to pay for the records that you request. FOIA allows NOVA to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
  • If NOVA estimates that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, NOVA may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that NOVA has to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
  • You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.
  • If you owe NOVA money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, NOVA may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.

Commonly Used Exemptions

  • Personnel records
  • Records subject to attorney-client privilege or attorney work product
  • Vendor proprietary information
  • Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded