LANSING, Mich. - E-mail messages distributed among teacher union members on public school computers are not subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act in most cases, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled, according to the Detroit Free Press.

In a case involving Howell Public Schools and local members of the Michigan Education Association, the court said that the act applies only to records created to further a public institution's official duties, the Free Press reported. Personal communication is exempt, even if the content relates to school issues such as the contract negotiations then under way between the Howell teacher's union and the district, the court ruled, according to the Free Press.

The court said that the Howell teacher e-mails were not related to the district's operations, the Free Press reported.

The ruling reverses a lower court decision that found that e-mail stored on the district's server were public record. The lawsuit was filed by the MEA to block release of e-mails requested by Chetly Zarko, an Oakland resident and activist who argued that because the communication was stored on publicly owned computers, it should be considered public record, according to the Free Press.

Similarly, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case stating that documents created by public officials using public computer systems are public records and should be treated as such under the state's FOIA. The Mackinac Center publishes Michigan Education Digest.

Detroit Free Press, "Court: Teachers union's e-mail not public record," Jan. 27, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Howell Education Association v. Howell Board of Education, An Amicus Curiae Brief to the Michigan Court of Appeals," March 26, 2009