By Brian Hews
In a stunning court ruling, a California judge has ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by two California nonprofit companies to release data, including Social Security numbers, mental health records, home addresses, report cards, and disciplinary records of all public school students in California.
The ruling applies to every student who attended public school in California since 2008, and must be made available to a “court-appointed” data analyst so it can be analyzed for the two non-profits.
The number of students’ data release could top 10 million, with some students now 25 years old and possibly living out of state.
The California Concerned Parents Association and the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association filed a lawsuit five years ago alleging that the California Department of Education was not providing adequate education to children with disabilities.
The CDE is denying all charges alleged in the filing and has fought disclosure of any student information.
The groups tried to get out in front of the ruling saying on their Facebook page, “The information will be made available to perform a statistical analysis of how California treats disabled students.”
The outcry from parents and lawmakers compelled the two organizations to shut down their Facebook pages and are now referring parents to their website.
One parent commented, “You have no rights to my child’s personal info. I am an advocate (of children with disabilities) and this is still wrong of a certain group of parents to force all parents to now scrambled to whether or not they want their own child’s personal private information given out.”
California State PTA President Justine Fischer said in a statement, “It’s hard to fathom that a judge would allow such an overexposure of children’s information.”
The nonprofits backtracked after the outcry saying, “We are very concerned about the privacy of all students in the state. We would like parents to understand that we had offered to mediate a settlement with the CDE many times and have offered to receive the information with fake names, but they did not want to cooperate.”
In her ruling, Judge Kimberly Mueller in the eastern district court in Sacramento
sanctioned several protective measures “allowing only 10 people to see the data and that the data will be destroyed after analysis.”
Lawmakers are stepping up to ensure students’ data is protected.
Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) are introducing legislation designed to ensure that personal information is protected at the school district level.
Gatto told HMG-CN Sunday, “This court decision is extremely ill-advised, putting all of our children’s personal information at risk. Our bill will prevent this going forward, and we are also exploring legal options to overturn this very questionable legal opinion.”
Assemblywoman Gonzales commented, “The huge data dump we’ve been made aware of begs a bigger question: why schools collect so much personal student data in the first place. As a parent, I think it’s time we ensure schools aren’t collecting unnecessary data, like Social Security numbers, that puts our students’ privacy at risk.”
Assemblywoman Melendez told HMG-CN, “No group should be allowed unfettered access to student’s personal information without explicit consent from parents. Parents should absolutely be alarmed and outraged this is about to happen.”
The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student information, according to a letter that State Superintendent Tom Torlakson wrote to districts on Feb. 2.
But he also said courts can force agencies to provide the data.
Torlakson told school districts around the state to provide links for parents to file an “Objection to Disclosure” form with the federal court.
It is unclear whether submitting the form will guarantee removal from the data transfer.
Parents can object to having their child’s records released but not electronically or by phone. Rather, they must print out a form and send it by mail to Mueller’s office by April 1.
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