Sunday, June 30, 2013

Student Privacy: Parents Need to Pay Attention (2)

Consider how you would feel if your child's health records, kept by his/her school, were made public. What if the child was grappling with depression, attention deficit disorder, or an expensive to treat disease like rheumatoid arthritis? Is it possible that future employers could use this information against your child, once s/he grows up, in making hiring decisions?

What if you child's school disciplinary record was made public? What if part of the disciplinary record was going to be expunged at age 18 but now will live on forever in cyberspace? What if youthful lapses in judgment thus plagued people for their entire lives?

What if you knew that a high-level official in NYS stated that there is "rampant ignorance" in school districts across the state regarding FERPA? If you are not familiar with this federal law, it is the law that protects student confidential information from being released by school districts without specific permission of the parents. (At age 18, students can give the permission themselves.)  According to the NYS Committee on Open Government, FERPA is...

"federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA"; 20 U.S.C. §1232g)... applies to all educational agencies or institutions that participate in grant programs administered by the United States Department of Education. As such, FERPA includes within its scope virtually all public educational institutions and many private educational institutions. The focal point of the Act is the protection of privacy of students. It provides, in general, that any "education record," a term that is broadly defined, that is personally identifiable to a particular student or students is confidential, unless the parents of students under the age of eighteen waive their right to confidentiality, or unless a student eighteen years or over similarly waives his or her right to confidentiality."

Many people in NYS believe the relationship between its public schools and inBloom, Inc. (to store confidential student information - name, address, test scores, grades, detailed disciplinary and health records, race, ethnicity, economic status, and disabilities - in a data cloud) will gut the FERPA law.

Who is already paying attention to privacy matters as they pertain to inBloom, Inc.? The comptroller of NYC wrote to Education Commissioner King and the Board of Regents in May of this year and cited the growing concerns being voiced about student privacy. He wrote: "I am disappointed that the SED has not chosen to adhere to a higher standard of protection for the personally identifiable information of the people it is meant to serve." In the same time period, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million American Federation of Teachers, wrote to founding members of inBloom's board of directors stating that there are "genuine concerns about security, privacy, and sharing and exploitation of data." In addition, changes to FERPA (2008 & 2011) are a concern to the AFT because the changes have weakened FERPA protections.

Who has access to school children's confidential information? Too many people - something that will be explored in future postings about student privacy.

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