Parents raise red flags over personal information leak

Parents of Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia are concerned after personal information was accidentally posted on the school’s website. This information, that parents call a breach of privacy, included student ID numbers, birth dates, home addresses, and phone numbers.

The information for 685 students that had participated in a county arts enrichment program was posted online as a document labeled “Sample Schedule”.  A parent reported the document to the Washington Post. John Torre, Fairfax school spokesman confirmed the information and said it was online for about 24 hours. He apologized to the families involved and acknowledged that it should not have been posted at all.

The public posting of student data occurred at a time of widespread concern about data security and debate about how much privacy individuals can expect in the digital age. School systems collect large amounts of personal data about hundreds of thousands of families in the Washington area, which makes data exposures particularly troubling to parents.

Torre told T. Rees Shapiro, a reporter for the Washington Post, that a letter was sent out Monday informing parents about the mistake. In the letter administrators for Fairfax county schools said they accept responsibility and that the school district is “commited to safeguarding student privacy and confidential data and we have taken steps to ensure that this type of mistake does not happen again”. Torre said he recognizes the information should not have been put out into the public, but said that technically the information that was posted falls under the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy act as “directory information”.

Some of the parents of children whose data was shared said they go above and beyond to make sure they do not post information about their children online. Mark Sitko has a child enrolled at Oakton High, he says in this day in age parents should be concerned about predators finding the data. Cassi Wiseman, whose daughter is in 7th grade at Rocky Run Middle School said she worries about her daughter’s name, address and date of birth getting into the hands of the wrong people. “That’s information that we guard, and I’d like to think that Fairfax County would guard that as well.” Caroline Hockenberry said that her eighth grade son’s personal data, including courses he took during the summer program was posted on the website. She was disturbed to know this information was online for all to see.

“I can’t believe they did this. This is a huge error,” Hockenberry said. “That’s something they are always educating the kids about, not revealing that personal information online, and being very careful. They are the schools, and they should be protecting their identities.”