Cabinet Report. Feb 11, 2014.
When a southern California school district hired a data-mining company last fall to monitor students’ public posts on social media, the move made national headlines and set warning bells off for one state lawmaker, who filed legislation this month to help protect kids’ personal information.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Silver Lake) AB 1442 comes amid a renewed national debate over the collection and use of private personal data as well as a ground swell of proposals aimed specifically at protecting minors.
“Whether it is the NSA, a city, or a school district, people have the right to know when, and for how long, the government can gather and keep their personal data before destroying it,” Gatto said in a statement. “Parents and students alike should be given reasonable warning and assurance that information will be properly destroyed after its need has passed.”
While Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s AB 1442 doesn’t address the issue of schools monitoring their pupil’s online activities, it does take aim at how districts handle the student information they do collect.
The bill seeks to expand the definition of “agency” in the Information Practices Act of 1977 to include local governmental entities – such as school districts. It would require parents to be notified whenever a district gathers information about their children, and that a student’s records be destroyed within one year of the student either leaving the district or turning 18.
Concerns over pupil privacy have increased in part due to the impending roll out of new assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards as well as an emphasis on using a wider range of student data to drive instruction in the classroom. The proliferation of technological devices such as biometric palm scanners – being used in some schools to speed up lunch lines and track student accounts – has also sparked debate in the arena of personably identifiable student data collection.
Federal law generally prohibits the improper disclosure of a student’s personal information derived from education records but many states have taken to tightening those restrictions further.
In recent months, law- and policy makers in Oklahoma, New York, Georgia, Alabama and Iowa have adopted measures specifying conditions under which student data may or may not be collected and/or shared.
Keric Ashley, director of the California Department of Education’s Analysis, Measurement and Accountability Reporting Division, said both his agency and districts statewide have protocols in place to restrict access to a student’s private and identifiable information to only those with a legal right to know.
The student-level information collected in the state data base, he said, is only that needed to meet state and federal reporting requirements around test scores and program participation. California does not send individual student records to the federal government, said Keric, but rather aggregate reports of student assessment results or numbers of students in various programs.
“There’s not a lot of extraneous data – we don’t have health data; we don’t have sexual orientation data that you sometimes hear in some media reports, and we don’t get into a student’s personal issues,” Keric said. “These are only data that are used for the business of having reporting requirements to the federal government.”
Attempts to protect student privacy, Keric cautioned, should be balanced with the benefits of maintaining information that may be important to a student’s future.
The requirement in Gatto’s AB 1442, for example, that education records be destroyed within a year of a student leaving the district or turning 18 could be problematic since information kept by schools is often required for college entry, job qualification or military enlistment – sometimes years later.
There are other considerations as well, and Gatto may have to make adjustments if he wants his legislation to move forward.
“There are a lot of potential scenarios where destroying records after just a year could create a problem,” said Teri Burns, a legislative analyst for the California School Boards Association. For instance, a student could leave a district to attend a charter school or a private school – many of which don’t have the same reporting or record-keeping requirements as traditional public schools. If that same student returns to the district a year or more later, his or her records would not be available.
“You don’t want a kid getting four vaccinations for chicken pox because they’ve moved around so much and nobody can prove it,” Burns said. “Parents lose records; kids drop out and return. I just think some of these things need to be considered.”