Monday, July 8, 2013

Modern Technology & Lax Oversight: A risk to student privacy (3)

Modern technology has raced ahead of wise policy - whether on the national, state, or local level. The lack of insightful policy has and will continue to result in significant negative consequences for society.

In the case of public schools, student privacy, one would think, would be a very high priority item. However, one would be wrong. A NYS Dept. of State official recently stated that there is  rampant ignorance around the state regarding the federal requirements to protect confidential student information. "Superintendents don't want to hear what I have to say," stated the official.

A federal law, called FERPA, is designed to protect confidential student information from being made public or being made available to those who do not have an educational interest in seeing such information. Schools risk losing their federal funding and/or being sued if they are found to be negligent about the protection of confidential student information.

What confidential student information do schools possess? Academic data (grades, exam scores) disciplinary records, special education designations, medical information, and - for some - family income data.

Within a public school district, who is permitted to see confidential student information? The law reads, in part:

§ 99.31   Under what conditions is prior consent not required to disclose information?
(a) An educational agency or institution may disclose personally identifiable information from an education record of a student without the consent required by § 99.30 if the disclosure meets one or more of the following conditions:

(1)(i)(A) The disclosure is to other school officials, including teachers, within the agency or institution whom the agency or institution has determined to have legitimate educational interests.

A key point here is that teachers are only permitted to see confidential student information if school district officials have determined the teachers have a legitimate educational interest in accessing that information. With the onset of computers and the collecting of copious amounts of information on students, school districts should:
~  have policies and procedures that are in compliance with the FERPA law
~  permit teacher access to confidential student information only if there is a legitimate educational interest
~ be rigorous about employee training in this high-risk, high-stakes issue

Is your school district vigilant in its protection of confidential student information or, as the NYS official stated, is there rampant ignorance that puts students at risk (of private information being disclosed) and school districts at risk (of liability claims)?

Next posting: Why teacher access to information can alter your child's educational experience

(Non-teacher employee access to student information will be discussed separately.)

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