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Huntington Trustees Take Stand on Student Privacy

Huntington School Board President Emily Rogan and Superintendent James Polansky led a discussion on student privacy.
Huntington School Board President Emily Rogan and Superintendent James Polansky led a discussion on student privacy.

The Huntington School Board has joined the battle raging across the state by school districts concerned with the State Education Department’s plan to share confidential student and teacher data with inBloom, an Atlanta based company that intends to place the information in a data “cloud.”

A dozen New York City parents filed a lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court last week to stop SED Commissioner John B. King, Jr. and the Board of Regents from releasing any personally identifiable student information to inBloom. Represented by the Manhattan law firm Pitta & Giblin LLP, the parents claim that disclosing the student data violates the state’s Personal Privacy Protection Law, which forbids any state agency from providing personally indentifiable information to third parties without consent, unless it is necessary to operate a program specifically authorized by law. A hearing on the lawsuit will be held December 6.

The request for a temporary restraining order can be found here: http://shar.es/8uA17 and the memo of law can be found here: http://shar.es/8uA4a.

“InBloom Inc., established by a $100 million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation, was designed as a multi-state data store, to collect and format personal student data and make it available to vendors to help them data mine, develop and market their software learning products,” according to Class Size Matters, a  non-profit, non-partisan clearinghouse for educational information.

Following a lengthy presentation by Superintendent James W. Polansky on the issue of student privacy and the state’s plans for sharing data with inBloom, Huntington trustees engaged in an energetic discussion before voting 7-0 for a resolution that supports passage of a pair of bills which require SED to obtain parent consent before any student data is shared and to allow parents to opt out of the program.

“Regardless of whether or not a breach in data security is unintended, it is the potential for such a compromise to occur that has parents and educators uneasy at this point,” Mr. Polansky said. “This resolution was prepared and ultimately approved by the board in response to this potential. It is also my hope that it draws additional attention to the concern and to actions that can be taken to alleviate it.”

The 400 categories of information include such items as addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, grades, test scores, race and economic status, disability and health diagnoses, attendance and suspension records and any services the student receives, among many others.

The full text of the Huntington School Board resolution is listed below:

WHEREAS, New York State has agreed to share confidential student and teacher data with a corporation called inBloom, Inc.;

WHEREAS, this confidential data will include children’s personally identifiable information, including name, address, grades, test scores, disciplinary records, attendance, race, ethnicity, economic status, disabilities, health conditions and other sensitive information;

WHEREAS, this information is to be placed on a data cloud, which has been cited by many technology professionals as potentially insecure;

WHEREAS, inBloom Inc. has stated that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored…or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

WHEREAS, seven out of the nine original states that were originally “partners” with inBloom have now discontinued the partnership;

WHEREAS, bill A.6059, passed by the Assembly last session, would require parental notification and/or consent before any confidential, personally identifiable student data is redisclosed to third party vendors;

WHEREAS, bill A.7872, also passed by the Assembly would require a parental “opt out” provision with respect to sharing personally identifiable student information with third parties;

WHEREAS, both bills have now been introduced in the Senate as S.5930 and S.5932.

RESOLVED, that the New York State Education Department (SED) should immediately be obligated to notify parents of these impending disclosures and provide them with the right to consent before their child’s information is shared;

RESOLVED, that we call upon SED to hold public hearings to explain the point of these disclosures, and hear concerns about how this plan risks children’s privacy, security and safety;

RESOLVED, that we call upon SED to clearly explain how families can obtain relief if their children are harmed by the improper use or accidental release of this information, including who will be held financially responsible;

RESOLVED, that we call upon SED to pledge that the privacy rights of public school children and their families will be respected over the interests of any companies or organizations.

AND IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge our state representatives to support, co-sponsor, endorse and approve A.6059, A.7872, S.5930 and S.5932, and/or any other measures that help ensure that our students’ privacy is protected and that parents are provided with full notification and the right to consent before any disclosures occur.

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