Federal court orders state to release confidential student information

Parents can ask to opt their children out of 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 is about to be released as part of a federal lawsuit.

The release includes information on any child who attended public schools in California after Jan. 1, 2008, and is estimated to apply to as many as 10 million students. The court order calling for 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 who do not want their students' information divulged, or former students who are over 18, can either fill out a form found on the Department of Education's website or send 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 requests 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.

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14 people like this
Posted by Wen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:14 pm

It seems that either the litigating parents groups, Tom Torlakson, or everyone involved is lying about the circumstances of the ordered massive information disclosure. Either way, up to 10M kids and probably their families, stand to potentially become unwilling, and unnecessary and preventable victims of identity theft.

14 people like this
Posted by Ends Mean What
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2016 at 1:21 am

Most special ed parents I know complain about how difficult it is to get their own records. One advocate told me that she'd never seen a district give over the whole record ever, not even once. I don't see the reason the private info is necessary. Districts like Palo Alto use an individual student identifier that allows tracking the students individually without their personal info. PAUSD does such a great job whitewashing the records of anything they could be held accountable for, there is no point to this anyway. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is a reputable organization, and they expressed serious concerns. The plaintiff in the suit is an organization that lists no address, contact info, or funding source.u

Someone should hold districts accountable, but this isn't it. Make money available for families to get free legal firepower, and pretty quickly districts will have to learn to work more effectively. Right now, there is no accountability.

10 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2016 at 11:38 am

Why do the litigants need the name, social security number and home address of all of the students in the public school system? How does this information impact any studies of whether the education provided to students in special education programs is appropriate, or not? It would seem that knowing the school district and school would be sufficient to investigate the education provided all students in the state.

The Court does not seem to have thought through the implications of this data in the hands of people (lawyers) with no skills appropriate to protecting data. It’s a shame that those people in the State Department of Education could not make this point to the Court.

Shame that we don’t have a system that advocates better for the security of publicly held personal data.

1 person likes this
Posted by More information
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2016 at 11:52 am

The sites below provide some additional context.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by More information
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2016 at 11:55 am

Oops, forgot the link to the Torlakson press release:

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Given how many data breaches there are these days, a backwater California Court with no expertise in data security is not the best source of insuring data security methodology.

The Federal Government seems to have no ability to manage its personal data—

OPM Hack: Government Finally Starts Notifying 21.5 Million Victims:
Web Link

Same for the private sector, which is attacked almost on a daily basis—

Anthem Suffers Large Data Breach:
Web Link

So why would anyone believe that this group of litigants is any different?

There is no reason that the records should not be depersonalized before turned over for this statistical analysis.

Also not clear that when this project is over that sufficient audits will be made to insure that all of the data has been erased and all copies located and destroyed.

This matter should be taken up by local school boards so that parents and interested parties can at least have an opportunity to let their local elected officials know what they think about this release of confidential student data. Keep in mind that once this door is opened, it will not likely be shut any time soon.

10 people like this
Posted by Ends Mean What
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2016 at 12:21 pm

It's also problematic that the public receives reassurances without any teeth to back it up. The Courts should require the plaintiffs to put up a bond so that anyone who counters with a claim of identity theft can get straightforward restitution, rather than being put through another harmful experience after enduring one at the hands of our public schools. I find it alarming that they were given the info without the addresses but pressed for the personal info, when the group is so unwilling to be open about who they are themselves.

Some hazy new group just got permission to find out such personal information about every California child and family. In order to protect them? When you have problems as a family, there are so few resources out there. If they simply set up a nonprofit families could go to for free legal help, they would collect more direct information about what families endure, far faster, while also actually helping people. This only makes me as a parent feel more vulnerable and worked over.

And the news said the Court wouldn't necessarily honor the objections.

11 people like this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Feb 25, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Crazy. I can't believe that to "object" to my children's data being included (whatever that means), parents need to fill out a piece of paper and MAIL it to the judge. How can that office possibly be staffed to receive potentially MILLIONS of pieces of paper. Why isn't this being collected in some meaningful way online if they are seriously taking this requests into account.

9 people like this
Posted by SendInTheForm
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm

to EVA
NO, you SHOULD fill out the form and MAIL it in! Keep copies. Better yet, send it certified (so it needs a signature). EVERYONE with kids should do this. SWAMP the parties responsible for this with all that paper mail. THEN see what happens.

5 people like this
Posted by Evelyn
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2016 at 4:52 pm

Why does the lawsuit require a child's SSN???

I'm SO sending in this form. Certified Mail, for sure.

Who's going to open the MILLIONS of envelopes that will be flooding their office?

5 people like this
Posted by Skepticsl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 25, 2016 at 6:02 pm

I'm concerned that opting out won't mean that your kid's name will actually be removed from the data base. Who's going to monitor that? Somebody with money should lawyer up and force an injunction to stop this nonsense. The judge that ordered this release is clearly not too bright. There must be somebody above her with a brain and a little common sense.

1 person likes this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Feb 26, 2016 at 9:07 am

I also mailed my form. Not sure that anyone will actually read it.
BUT if millions of forms are collected it could influence the judge to change her ruling.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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