Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Confidential Student Information Revealed: Blame the sub? ( Student Privacy -5)

The legal and ethical requirement to protect confidential student information is illustrated in the following example of an incident at the PCSD that shows an egregious lapse in such oversight.

The student's parents have given their permission to have the story revealed (with no names mentioned) because they believe the public might exert pressure on school officials (Board of Education and Administrators) to make the protection of private student information a high priority.

These parents were reluctant to have their child tested for possible learning disabilities because they feared the information might not be kept strictly confidential. This concern of theirs was even included in the summary notes taken at a school meeting to discuss the matter. School officials assured the parents that the testing of their child and the results would be kept secure and confidential.

One day the information about the testing of this particular student got into students' hands and spread throughout the student body. How did this breach occur? The parents contacted the principal when their distraught child told them what had transpired. This child's private testing and its results were now fodder for the gossip mill and the child was taunted, bullied, and humiliated.

The principal told the parents that the regular classroom teacher had been absent and the substitute had not protected the confidential documents from students. The parents, and all community members for that matter, might ask the following:

  • Why didn't the classroom teacher ensure the security of confidential student information?
  • How well-trained are employees in the importance of protecting confidential student information? Or, as a Dept. of State official noted, is there rampant ignorance about FERPA?
  • What is Potsdam Central's protocol for training (and updating the training of) employees who are given access private student information?
  • How much confidential student information - that can even be accessed via computer at employees' homes- is made available to employees? Are there barriers or is access wide open?
  • Are employees permitted to access only the specific confidential student information that they NEED to fulfill their job responsibilities?
  • Is confidential student information regularly in jeopardy when there is a substitute teacher? (The parents believe the principal was attempting to shirk responsibility by blaming the privacy violation on a substitute.)
  •  Does the BOE and administration understand that breaches of confidentiality can result in liability for the school district by way of a lawsuit and/or the loss of federal aid? 
Most importantly, what was the impact on the student? How do school officials un-ring that bell? Money might have been one limited type of reparation for the student but the parents, fortunately, did not sue the district. After that incident, one would think the district would have:
~ implemented stringent oversight protocols for access to confidential student information
~ limited employee access to only that confidential student information in which the employee has a legitimate interest
~ provided employees with documents (on paper or in electronic form) that explain FERPA and outline the type of access the district gives to employees
~ required annual training of employees about their legal and ethical obligations pertinent to the protection of confidential student information

No comments:

Post a Comment