How Do I Protect My Student's Privacy? Part 1
by Sue Greenwald, MD
There are two Student Privacy related laws that should protect students from data mining. They are 1. PPRA which will be discussed separately, and 2. FERPA which is discussed here. Have you wondered why third party contracts are becoming so prevalent in schools? One of the reasons may be that hiring a third party to do the data collection invalidates the privacy laws.
From the Nebraska Dept of Education website “Data Research and Evaluation” page regarding SLDS:
“The Nebraska Dept of Education began development of a student- and staff-level warehouse known as the Nebraska Student and Staff Record System (NSSRS) in 2004”
”NDE collects and maintains personally-identifiable information from education records of Nebraska students, including: Personal data which identifies each student. These data may include, but are not limited to, name, student identification number, address, race/ethnicity, gender, date of birth, place of birth, name of parent or lawful custodian;…Data regarding student progress…assessment data...data regarding eligibility for special ed, free or reduced meals, or other compensatory programs.”
My question is: does this data have an expiration date? Is it deleted when a staff member retires or a student graduates? Or is it collected and stored in perpetuity? A link for more information goes to the US Dept of Education page regarding the EdFacts Initiative:
“EDFacts is a U.S. Department of Education (ED) initiative to collect, analyze, and promote the use of high-quality, pre-kindergarten through grade 12 data.
It Centralizes data provided by state education agencies. It Reduces state and district data burden and streamlines data practices.”
Maybe you find it comforting that a department of the federal government knows that your kid had a free lunch or received special ed services. It shouldn’t.
As I said, The Statewide Longitudinal Data System of the Nebraska Dept of Education has a Data Access and Use Policies and Procedures Manual updated August 2013
It reassuringly mentions the federal privacy law called FERPA which stands for Family Education Rights and Privacy Act enacted in 1974,
“The NDE will provide access to education records it maintains relating to an individual student to the student’s parents or to the student if he or she qualifies as an “eligible student” under the Act. Access to such records will not be provided to others without the consent of the student’s parents or of the eligible student, except as provided below.”
That sounds very responsible, until you see section 8 which is called: Access to Student records for Research. There are 8 separate bullet points of loopholes to the FERPA protections:
“Section 99.30 of FERPA requires a signed and dated written consent by the parent or eligible student before an educational agency or institution discloses personally-identifiable information unless the disclosure meets one or more of the following conditions: They include:
The disclosure is to authorized representatives* (asterisk) of state or local educational authorities auditing, evaluating or conducting compliance or enforcement activities;
The disclosure is to the authorized representative* (asterisk) of an organization conducting studies for, or on behalf of, the agency to develop, validate, or administer predictive tests, administer student financial aid programs, or improve instruction;
The disclosure is to appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies;”
The asterisk is then explained thusly:
“*The U. S. Department of Education has determined that “authorized representatives” who may have access to personally-identifiable information without parental or eligible student consent includes contractors, consultants, and other parties outside the agency used to conduct an audit, evaluation or compliance enforcement activities for which the agency would otherwise use its own employees.”
“Under these regulations, districts may disclose student personally identifiable information to NDE and NDE may redisclose personally identifiable information to authorized representatives to conduct the work of NDE without parental or eligible student consent”
Who might qualify as an “authorized representative including contractors, consultants, and other parties outside the agency”, that are allowed to disclose your personal information? Well, these private contractors would qualify: Panorama, Second Step, Committee for Children, Learning for Justice (Southern Poverty Law Center), CASEL. Otherwise known as Social-Emotional Learning. All of these third party agencies Contract their services to push SEL into every aspect of the school day, and to survey the children, staff, and sometimes parents. They survey your kids on their most intimate thoughts and feelings as they come of age. Their values, family backgrounds, parent-child relationships, and learning styles.
Those surveys become a digital “permanent record” and the companies doing them have immunity from the laws that might have kept them private. Is it any wonder that the entities backing SEL are among the most practiced people in the world at collecting and selling personal data--- The Zuckerberg Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Economic Forum?
Let’s use Grand Island Public Schools as a case study:
Daily Caller July 21,2022: 50 School Districts Granted $10,000 By ‘It Gets Better Project’ To Promote Gender Ideology In Schools Daily Caller writes:
“The school district admits on its website to using controversial surveys that often ask about students’ gender and sexual experiences. Grand Island Public Schools spends $52,000 annually to fund Panorama surveys, according to Parents Defending Education.”
Grand Island schools has an annual Contract with Panorama for $52,000, making Panorama an “authorized representative” so the FERPA privacy act would not apply.
According to the GIPS website information: https://www.gips.org/about-gips/panorama-at-gips.html, (Link is currently non-functional)
Nebraska Dept of Education requires schools to administer surveys of the school districts choosing aimed towards school improvement.
The reports of the survey results are individual as well as aggregate. Each child has an individual score nicely graphed out according to the samples shown on Panorama’s website. GIPS has this in the FAQ’s :
“Panorama…cannot share any education or student information unless authorized by the school or district or under applicable law.”
Would that be the applicable law with the 8 loopholes? To their credit, Grand Island Public Schools did have honest information available on their FAQ’s regarding Panorama:
“Q. Who can see my student’s responses and results?”
“A. District Administrators who coordinate with Panorama, Building Principals, Certified Teachers and Certified Support Staff (counselors, social workers, etc.) can view their class and/or course assigned students.”
In other words: everyone.
Why is Grand Island Public Schools willing to pay the equivalent of an annual teacher’s salary to Panorama to conduct surveys? That is a good question. Is the grant that they most likely received for playing along more lucrative than the cost? Has an administrator received any kickbacks? It’s not unheard of. Those are questions an investigative reporter might want to ask. I’m picking on Grand Island only because some of their information is (or was) publicly available. The same questions can be asked in many other districts.
Protect Nebraska Children Coalition has created Project Pineapple to bring attention to these unnecessary and intrusive surveys that apparently our school districts are paying a lot of money for. Student privacy is an issue that needs much more attention as their personal data becomes monetized. Our goal is that 50% of students are opted out of these surveys this school year. Let’s see if Panorama is still worth $52,000 a year when they are not allowed to mine your child’s data.
Our website protectnebraskachildren.org, has a link under “Resources” for Opt Out #Project Pineapple. There you will have access to shareable information and the opt out forms. Also on Facebook: Opt Out Campaign #ProjectPineapple.
Digital information has become more valuable than gold in today’s world. It has never been more important to take steps to protect the privacy of school children.
Dr. Sue Greenwald is a retired Pediatrician and one of the co-founders of Protect Nebraska Children Coalition
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