Home > Uncategorized > Let’s Not Forget FERPA

Let’s Not Forget FERPA

September 27, 2012

Since starting this blog five months ago, I have “met” several people who are just as passionate about high-quality public education as I am. Many are also quite well-informed in discussions of education policy. One of those is Melissa Abdo, who is worth following on Twitter and Facebook. Today, she spoke at Rep. Sally Kern’s interim study on Student Privacy and was kind enough to share her prepared remarks with me. I’ll let Melissa’s comments speak for themselves, but let me just say that we need not lose sight of this story. The SDE acted recklessly this summer in publishing student records, insisted that they were right in doing so, and only backtracked when the pressure within Barresi’s own Republican Party got too hot.  Her prepared comments are below:

OK House of Representatives: Interim Study- Privacy

9/27/12

Melissa Abdo- Coordinator, Tulsa Area PLAC (Parent Legislative Action Committee)

A parent led advocacy group which supports public education in Oklahoma.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today today and for discussing this very important topic. I am pleased to provide you a parent’s perspective on this very important subject.

There are two components to the collection of student data that give cause for concern:

The first is personally identifiable information being shared and used without parental consent.  I have to believe it would be very difficult to find any parent who, once made aware of this, would

support such a practice.

The second would be information which is shared by consent, but which may then be at risk to be misused, or used in a manner which was not anticipated.  We have seen a very recent example of this in Oklahoma.

Like what? What type of information are we collecting? What type of information are we asking from parents?  Name, address, birthdate, test scores.  If that weren’t enough, notice p. 3 states:

Please attach a separate document explaining in detail the rationale behind the appeal…..

This type of info included IEP information, transcripts, letters from school officials and family members detailing student’s learning challenges, medical conditions which impact academic performance, and explanations of private family circumstances.

On June 5th of this year, this information, about 25 Oklahoma students, was published on the State Department of Education website. It is heartbreaking to imagine parents submitted this information on behalf of their child, acting in what they believe to be  their child’s best interest- and it was made public.

As of this morning, the records of those 25 students remain posted on the agency’s website. They have been partially redacted, but the redacting is incomplete, and of poor quality with first and last initials and some students names still appearing in the documents. Who have we held accountable for this action?

Thankfully, the agency now uses a numbering system to identify students on the agenda, and they have not again published the students’ information packet.  But their position that no law was violated leaves the door open for the possibility.

Another misuse of information would be the cover sheet for the Appeal form. This was added after the media coverage of the publishing of records.  The last line is troubling….

My documentation and application will also be redacted and posted online.

As a parent, I would actually expect this cover sheet to say the opposite.  It should say “This information will be discussed in executive session.  Your documentation and application will be kept confidential.”

Last spring the Legislature unanimously passed a law allowing the for student’s right to appeal the state’s graduation testing requirements. Can a state agency put a condition on that right, by requiring you to agree to have private information posted online?

I was so upset this could happen, I contacted my legislators. I have contacted our State Supt. I have spoken to the SBE during public comments at their June 28th meeting.  I have been in contact with the U.S. Department of Education, Family Privacy Officer.

Here is the situation we find ourselves in: Information which is misused puts students at risk.  Their safety is at risk, and their dignity is at risk.  Oklahoma parents still do not have the answers to why this happened, how it happened, and what we will do to make sure it never happens again.

Parents are concerned that we want to collect more and more data, to be shared with more and more agencies, and available to more and more people. We don’t have a system to protect students from types of misuse we’ve already seen.

As a parent, I would please ask the Legislature to always err on the side of caution when dealing with anything that involves student information.

Thank you for your time today.

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  1. lloyd.snow@sandites.org
    September 28, 2012 at 8:00 am

    She is a warrior just as you are. Much thanks from an admirer. regards snow

    Like

  2. Teacher's Husband
    September 28, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Teachers I know, to the person, were all appalled by these actions of the SDE as they occurred. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that had they pulled such a stunt of revealing personal data, they could easily be on the receiving end of a lawsuit and most likely, out of a job very quickly. All referred to the FERPA regulations that are beat into the brains of every teacher.

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