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.