Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Parents should know school districts' privacy policies and practices

According to the recently published Fordham Law School study, "Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools," parents are concerned about the sharing of private student information. Why?

  • Student data will be sourced in data centers operated by third-party vendors.
  • ...parents worry about the extensive quantity of student data being collected and the access being granted to that data.
  • Is the data being held for an indefinite period of time? 
  • Is the duration of storage outside the control of the school system?
  • What access is being given to third-party vendors for marketing purposes?
  • Services such as email and document sharing that are offered to educational institutions for no financial payment also flag privacy and data security concerns.
  • Re. inBloom, Inc., one parent group has stated, "the plan to share personally identifiable and highly confidential student data in such an unrestricted manner, in an open-ended time frame, without parental notification or consent, is unprecedented in US history, and would violate both FTC and HIPAA protections..."

 The study notes that schools' actual policies and practices overseeing student privacy "remain largely unknown."  
~ Do you, as parents and community members, know your school district's actual privacy policies and practices?
~ Are Board members reporting to the public about such policies/practices/contractual provisions and making the answers "conspicuous"  on the school district's website?
~  Who is representing and protecting your child's privacy? Since parents have been cut out of the picture to a startling level - with no parental notification or consent required for so much data sharing - who is left to protect the sharing, storage, and disclosure of private information about your children?

If ever there was a time for parents to organize and make their voices heard, it is now.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

More Student Privacy Concerns: What's P-20?

For all who are worried about the risks to student privacy facing students in NYS, it is worth reading this article:


It certainly prompts us to learn about P-20 -  which is a NYSED plan to collect and share student data with other agencies. The data gathering begins in Pre-K and ends when students enter the workforce.

One superintendent is quoted as saying, "Why are we doing this? What's the purpose? Why do they need students' names? Why do we need to share information about 5-year-olds with colleges? Unbelievable."

Years ago, Alvin Toffler and other futurists correctly predicted that technology would move ahead of our capacity to predict its negative implications. The P-20 plan to gather so much information about students is alarming. Just how closely should Big Brother be watching citizens?

At this point, what type of student data is being collected and poised to be shared with the likes of inBloom, Inc.?

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Sometimes Social Security Numbers
  • Records of Learning Disabilities
  • Test Scores
  • Attendance Records
  • Hobbies
  • Career Goals
  • Attitudes Toward School

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Student Privacy and Cloud Computing

Last month The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History (FLASH) released a lengthy study entitled "Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools."  Many parents believe their right to be consulted about and to give permission for the release of personally identifiable information about their children have been trod upon by NYS public schools in their agreements with 3rd-party vendors who are gathering vast amounts of student information.

The Fordham legal team presents their goals as follows:
  1. To provide a national picture of cloud computing in public school
  2. To assess how public schools address their statutory obligations
  3. To make recommendations based on the findings to improve the protection of student privacy in the context of cloud computing. 
Some of their key findings, noted below, are alarming.
  • 95% of school districts rely on cloud services
  • Cloud services are poorly understood, non-transparent, and weakly governed.
  • Districts frequently surrender control of student information when using cloud services. For instance, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors.
  • An overwhelming majority of cloud service contracts DO NOT address parental notice, consent, or access to student information.
  • School district cloud service agreements generally do not provide for data security and even allow vendors to retain student information in perpetuity...
More valuable information from the study will in be included in future postings.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

PCSD: Why take a financial risk?

The Potsdam Village Board took action this week to write off the remaining $220,426 on a loan given to the Building Blocks Daycare 20 years ago. In 2009, the Village Board wrote off approximately $170,000 in interest payments on this loan. Thus, close to $400,000 in revolving grant monies have been lost because the funds were granted to a business that was highly unlikely to be able to repay its obligations.

Those who do not study history are destined to repeat it. Therefore, it is important for school and village officials ensure that the monies they oversee are used properly.

PCSD officials are now planning to engage in a $350K renovation project on the former daycare center building (now owned by the PCSD). The public has been told that BOCES wants to rent the building for special needs students. Legally, once the building is declared unneeded by the PCS BOE, the district is free to engage in a ten-year lease with BOCES. State Ed. permits a future BOE to agree to a second ten-year lease if it is requested by BOCES. However, the PCSD wants to bond over 15 years. Thus, risk would be taken on by the PCSD should BOCES decide, in ten years, that a second lease is not wanted.

The public should be told why officials are willing to take this risk so they can either support the risk or express opposition to it.