Lawsuit From Parent Group Results in Student Privacy Mess

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Because of a suit being brought against the state of California by a parent group, roughly 10 million students’ public-school records are about to be given to attorneys — and both parties in the suit blame the other for the upcoming release of personal student data.

There will be fewer than ten people who will view the information, and they will be supervised by a court-appointed special master in the area of electronic discovery, says Sharon Noguchi of the San Jose Mercury News. The records will be reviewed by attorneys who have been instructed to keep any information they read confidential and are expected to return or burn the data after they have completed the task.

Parents have until April 1 to request an exemption from the court order to have their children’s information released. The data will include test scores, health records, mental health records, addresses, and disciplinary records.

“Where does that software sit, where does that data sit?” asked Steven Liao, a Danville parent and IT professional. “where is confirmation it’s been destroyed?”

Liao noted that after the information is sent from the Department of Education, there will be no way to validate who has control over it. The information will also still exist wherever it is backed up, even if the reviewers destroy it when they have completed their analysis.

The lawsuit was filed by parents in the Morgan Hill Unified School District and argues that the California Department of Education does not require school districts to offer suitable special education assistance for children in need of such services.

In order for California Concerned Parents Association (CCPA), an organization with members in 80 districts across the state, to prove that adequate services have been denied, they need to see students’ records. They have said they were not interested in seeing children’s personal information.

Currently there is an online exemption form parents can use to assure their children’s Social Security number is not compromised. A child’s Social Security number is not a required piece of information by California public schools.

Judge Kimberly Mueller ordered earlier this month that every California public school student’s name, Social Security number, address, and mental and physical health assessments be made available to an appointed reviewer, says Elizabeth Weise, writing for USA Today.

CCPA and the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association state they are interested in understanding if, for example, black students who had been diagnosed as intellectually disabled were disproportionately placed in special education classes rather than being mainstreamed in general education classes.

Or, as another example, they wonder whether children identified with behavioral concerns have been provided with adequate behavioral management plans.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson denied the charges and added he would be actively involved in defending against the suit.

According to David Bienick of KCRA-TV, Linda McNulty, president of the California Concerned Parents Association, said she had received approximately 3,000 emails in the last few days, some of which were supportive. Others, she said, were “very nasty, threatening.”

MvNulty added that when the CCPA requested the data, they asked that it not include personal information, but Judge Mueller ordered records complete with names, home addresses and other private facts.

“Unfortunately, a lot of that information could be used to commit identity theft if it gets into the wrong hands” Eva Velazaques of the Identity Theft Resource Center told KNSD-TV in San Diego.