Federal court says confidential student information may be released

Parents can object to the release

Parents in school districts around the state recently received notice that confidential information on their students maintained by the California Department of Education may be released as part of a federal lawsuit.

The release could include information on any child who attended public schools in California after January 1, 2008, and is estimated to apply to as many as 10 million students. The court order regarding the release of the information promises that it will not be released "to anyone other than the parties (to the lawsuit), their attorneys and consultants, and the Court," and will be returned or destroyed when the lawsuit is concluded.

The "Notice of Disclosure of Student Information" from federal Judge Kimberly J. Mueller says that types of information stored on the Department of Education's databases and network drives include "name, Social Security number, home address, demographics, course information, statewide assessment results, teacher demographics, program information, behavior and discipline information, progress reports, special education assessment plans, special education assessments/evaluations, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), records pertaining to health, mental health and medical information, student statewide identifiers (SSID), attendance statistics, information on suspensions and expulsions, and results on state tests."

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in April 2012 by two organizations, the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association and the California Concerned Parents Association, which represent parents of children with disabilities.

The suit claims the California Department of Education is depriving some students with disabilities of their rights to a free and appropriate public education, as required by federal law.

Parents or former students who are over 18, can object to the release by filling out a form found on the Department of Education's website or sending a letter to Judge Mueller by April 1. The objections themselves will also not be made public.

The order does not say what will happen after the objections are filed, but it does indicate that not submitting a request will be "deemed a waiver of your right to object to the disclosure of your or your child's protected personal information and records."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a press release on Feb. 17 that the Department of Education has for nearly three years "fought requests by the plaintiffs to produce documents that contain the personally identifiable information of students and has produced documents with that information removed."

But the Concerned Parents Association, on its website, said it has worked for two years with the Department of Education to provide "these materials in an anonymized form" but that the department "persistently declined."

The parents' association says that the data release will be overseen by an expert in cybersecurity and data breach prevention to make sure it is secure.

Many local districts sent out canned notices to school families saying that their district is not part of the lawsuit. While the lawsuit is against the Department of Education, not the districts, information on all students could be released. The information was provided by the districts to the Department of Education in the past.

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4 people like this
Posted by Janet Goff
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 24, 2016 at 1:53 pm

I'm surprised at what's missing from this article which is clearly written from the point of view of the California Department of Education to scare parents into stopping the court from accessing records. A little obstruction of justice, anyone? BUT REST ASSURED, THE MPCSD IS NOT A PART OF THIS LEGAL ACTION, and that should have been made clear.

Also, the Court is seeking information from parents and organizations about confidentiality concerns, and misinformation or scare tactics that have been used to get them to opt out of sharing records, etc. There's a good chance that they will amend this request for records to include safeguards such as the removal of SSNs and other identifying information.

None of this would be necessary if the CDE hadn't systematically and for years supported school districts who don't provide mandated services to students with special needs. When parents are forced to sue just to obtain fair access to education for their child, the CDE supports the school districts and parents are left to fend for themselves at tremendous expense. It's disgusting, actually. Without being able to show a pattern of abuse through actual school records, this case can't be fairly judged. Hopefully, the Court will find a way to protect privacy and get the necessary evidence.

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 24, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Just to clarify what seems to be a common misconception. No school districts are part of the lawsuit - it is against the California Department of Education. But every public school student in the state, including any who have attended since 2008, will have their information released by the department. It is information provided to the department by the districts in the past.

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Posted by Caroline V.
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 7, 2016 at 9:46 am

Caroline V. is a registered user.

As a concerned community member and parent, who is advocating for our students, and as a healthcare provider, who has been retaliated against for disclosing abusive and illegal conduct in our education and healthcare system, I encourage every concerned parent to educate themselves and read the concerns of the California Concerned Parents Association posted on their website Web Link Read the facts and the misleading information posted by the California Department of Education. Concerned parents, who have children with special needs who struggled finding or accessing the special needs programs can become a member and/or contact their legal Representative Rony Sagy at Sagy Law Associates - 415 986-0900
Caroline Vertongen

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