Using electronic signatures in district and county office operations
The difference between digital and electronic signatures and how and when to use them
Districts and county offices of education need signatures on different types of documents, ranging from contractual agreements for business transactions to employee and human resources forms to parent/guardian and student agreements. Electronic signatures can increase efficiency in the management of commercial and administrative transactions, reduce cost and contribute to environmental sustainability. Local educational agencies are permitted by law to use electronic signatures in their communications and operations.

Government Code 16.5 authorizes public entities, including districts and COEs, to use a “digital signature” in any written communication with a public entity in which a signature is required or used. A “digital signature” is an electronic identifier created by computer and intended by the party using it to have the same force and effect as the use of a manual signature. An “electronic signature” consists of an electronic sound, symbol or process attached to or logically associated with an electronic record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the electronic record.

Legally, a digital or electronic signature has the same force and effect as a manual signature, provided certain attributes are in place. State law, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, and federal law, the Electronic Records and Signatures in Commerce Act, provide a framework for ensuring the validity of electronic contracts and security of electronic signatures in commercial and governmental transactions.

In general, a person may not be required to use or accept electronic signatures. When conducting business transactions, electronic signatures may only be used by an LEA when each party has agreed to conduct the transaction by electronic means. However, there are other specific instances that enable electronic signatures to be required by districts and COEs.

For an electronic signature to be used, it must be unique to the person using it, capable of verification, under the sole control of the person using it, linked to data in such a manner that if the data are changed the electronic signature is invalidated, and conform to specified sections of the California Code of Regulations (2 CCR 22000-22005). It is also necessary to ensure that electronic signatures are created by acceptable technology, that the level of security used to identify the signer of the document and to transmit the signature is sufficient for the transaction being conducted, and that if a certificate is a required component of the electronic signature, the certificate format used by the signer is sufficient for the security and interoperability needs of the LEA.

Additional requirements must be satisfied for the use of electronic signatures on documents and transactions that require notarized signatures and statements under penalty of perjury. For notarized signatures, the electronic signature of the notary public together with all of the other information required by law to be included in a notarization must accompany the electronic signature. For statements signed under penalty of perjury, the electronic signature must include all of the information to which the declaration pertains together with a declaration under penalty of perjury by the person who submits the electronic signature that the information is true and correct.

It is important to keep in mind that just like paper records, electronic records are required to be retained in accordance with law and regulations. Although a policy is not required for LEAs to use electronic signatures, CSBA recently created sample Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 3523 – Electronic Signatures, making now a great time for district and COE boards to consider the use of electronic signatures. Additionally, CSBA’s BP/AR 3580 – District Records addresses the retention of records, including electronically stored information, which boards are encouraged to review as well due to the retention requirements for electronic records.