Sunday, April 05, 2015

Student Data Privacy Meets " Not Cooperative" Sped Parents in Massachusetts

In what can only be termed "disgraceful," Tewksbury Public Schools accidentally released private student info about the out-of-district placements for 83 Special Ed students and rated parents by their "cooperativeness."  The document had been online for almost a week.  From the Tewksbury Town Crier:

In December the district blamed a projected $2 million shortfall for FY2016 on ‘skyrocketing’ out of district costs, and said that it could not implement a proposed free full-day kindergarten program as a result. That action generated distrust and backlash by the special education community, and this most recent release of data has parents ready to file complaints at the state and federal levels.

The seven-page memo from Rick Pelletier, Director of Student Services, to the Superintendent was included in the School Committee packet as part of its budget justification package last week. The memo includes a spreadsheet that listed all the students with out of district placements – and also included a ranking on ‘parental cooperativeness.’ The amount of data included could indicate a violation of state and federal law.

The office of Student Services also published its rating of parents according to their ‘cooperativeness with the district.’ Parents rated a ‘1’ are cooperative, ‘2’ somewhat cooperative, and those rated ‘3’ are ‘not cooperative.’

The newspaper itself said they could "easily identify" at least seven families in the list with readers contacting them saying they, too, could figure out who students were in the document.

The district, the state and the feds all had different levels of reaction.  (Interestingly, Massachusett's law is stronger than FERPA - good for them.)

The feds:
That same spokesman told the Town Crier that if the information was publicly disclosed and a parent believes that the disclosure of this information is personally identifiable to their child, they may file a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office for consideration.

Big whoop.  There have been virtually NO complaints that to the DOE on FERPA that have resulted in real punishment.  That's why FERPA - a nearly 40-year old law needs revamping, stat.


“What is the purpose for such a list? There are more appropriate ways to provide financial information and isn’t it bad enough that families in town blame us and our kids for the fact that there is no full day Kindergarten this year? 

“I am not only upset that my child has been identified in such a crude and public manner but that I have been classified as an uncooperative parent. I guess if you do what is right for your child than you are "uncooperative".”

”When I last attended a school committee meeting to voice my anger at statements made by our superintendent, I was chastised by Brian Dick, Chair of the school committee, who said he found my “comments offensive." I would like to know if our school committee, in particular Brian Dick, finds the cooperativeness rating and subsequent public release of that document offensive? And what are they going to do about the widening gap between parents and the district?”

That last comment could apply to our district.  There seems to be a growing disconnect between the concerns of parents - across the board - and how the district is run.  

Again - student data privacy is under attack, from within and without.  Things have got to change.


mirmac1 said...

The only difference between Tewksbury and Seattle is that the "cooperative" rating was made public. Parents know administrators look at parents that way. I would love to rate administrators.

This article describes the English-DeBell approach to budget development: blame SpEd. And I remember when English pulled a Tewksbury on a settlement with a SpEd student.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, and blaming Sped parents and student costs for the reason they can't have full-day K is unbelievable. It's almost like hanging out a sign, "Don't come to our district."