By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Confidential student records could wind up in the wrong hands, violating youngsters’ privacy, because of a move by New York State to open school files to certain organizations, a parent panel is warning.
Members of the Community Education Council of School District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights) voted unanimously at a recent meeting to oppose a decision by the New York State Department of Education to release student records without parental consent to certain corporations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There is no “opt out” mechanism in place for parents who do not wish to have their children’s information released, CEC 20 President Laurie Windsor said.
The records include such highly sensitive data as a student’s “name, address, grades, test scores, disciplinary records, attendance, race, ethnicity, economic status, disabilities, health conditions and other highly sensitive information,” the resolution reads in part.
Windsor said that one of the council’s concerns is that the data will wind up in the hands of a business which would then pitch its services to the child’s parents. Offering an example, Windsor pointed to the possibility of a private, for-profit learning center finding out that a student has a learning disability and pitching its services to the child’s parents.
“Community Education Council District 20 is very concerned about the collection of our students' confidential data and the storage of such data under very unreliable methods. An additional troubling issue is making such information available to commercial vendors,” Windsor said.
“Besides this, parental consent or notification is not required, which is extremely disturbing!” she said.
The New York Daily News recently reported that the student files would be given to inBloom Inc., an Internet company which will store and distribute the data.
Education officials told the Daily News that the data could be used by textbook publishers to tailor their books to match the needs of students.
Eight other states across the country have similar student data sharing programs.
CEC 20 is demanding that the State Dept. of Education and the New York City Dept. of Education notify parents of any impending disclosures of information and provide parents with the right to consent before their child's information is shared.
The council is also pushing for public hearings to be held to explain the point of the disclosures and for education officials to explain how families can obtain relief if their children are harmed by the improper use or accidental release of information, including who will be held financially responsible.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said he’s on the side of CEC 20 and understands parents’ concerns. Golden has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill that would prohibit the release of personal identifiable information of students without parental consent for those students under 18. Students 18 years of age and older would be given the opportunity to veto release of their information under the bill.
“Selling a student's personal information to third parties without parental notification, and parental and student acceptance, is unacceptable,” Golden said. Golden added that the bill is “reasonable, responsible, and gives parents and students their right to privacy.”
UPDATE: A group of community education council and elected officials will hold a town hall meeting to discuss concerns over sharing private student information.
The town hall will take place on Monday. April 19, at Borough Hall, starting at 6 p.m. The guests invited to speak at the meeting include representatives from the New York State Department of Education, the New York City Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, inBloom Inc., and the New York State Board of Regents.
The town hall is sponsored by the Brooklyn Parent Academy; assembly members Danny O'Donnell, James Brennan, William Colton, Nicole Malliotakis, Peter Abbate; state senators Liz Krueger and Martin Golden; Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; council members Robert Jackson, Gale Brewer and Leticia James; Class Size Matters; the Learning Disabilities Association of New York; community education councils of districts 1, 3, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22; and the Citywide Council for Special Education.