House Ed marathon

Data privacy protection bills die in committee

The House Education Committee late Monday killed two Republican-sponsored data privacy protection bills following a meeting that lasted more than eight hours.

Monday’s marathon session featured often-emotional testimony from parents expressing fears about intrusive school surveys and the dangers of detrimental information following children for life.

The bills were supported by a long list of witnesses, most of them parents with passionate arguments about what they consider to be intrusions on student and family privacy, particularly surveys that ask information about drug and alcohol use, sex, suicidal thoughts, and other personal matters.

“There’s a lot of mistrust, and there’s a lot of anger,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins activist. “This is profiling them forever.”

Both bills were “postponed indefinitely” on 6-5 votes, with majority Democrats opposing them.

Democratic committee members agreed that data privacy and security need to be dealt with, but in another way. “There are issues that need to be addressed. I just don’t believe this bill does it,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora and chair of the committee. “I am hopeful still that there will be a bill this session.”

The defeat of HB 15-1108 and House Bill 15-1199 leaves only one data privacy bill currently alive in the 2015 session, Senate Bill 15-173. That measure, introduced late last week, has bipartisan sponsorship and seeks to impose new privacy, distribution, and security requirements on outside vendors, such as database companies, that handle and process student information.

The two House bills sought to broaden parent control over student data and set new requirements on school districts.

“We need this bill to protect the personal and constitutional privacy rights of students,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument and prime sponsor of HB 15-1108.

But Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, testified, “It is far too prescriptive … and will tie the hands of our educators.” Other witnesses who opposed the bills warned they could hamper collection of data needed to identify and provide services to at-risk and special education students, as well as other special populations.

HB 15-1108 would have set new rules for protection of data privacy. It would have required individual parent consent to surveys and assessments and allowed parents to restrict distribution of data and have data destroyed. (Read unamended bill here.)

HB 15-1199 would have set detailed parent consent requirements, imposed limitations on vendors, restricted disclosure of data to third parties, required destruction of most data five years after students have left school, and set criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s provisions. It also would have set requirements for protection of teacher data (read bill).

School district witnesses who testified against the second bill warned that it could completely disrupt compiling data from statewide tests.

The committee Monday also killed a third Republican-sponsored measure, House Bill 15-1037. That bill from would have prohibited state colleges from denying student religious groups access to campus facilities and funding based solely on a group’s requirement that its leaders hold certain religious beliefs or standards of conduct.

The backstory to this bill is controversy over whether colleges and universities should support student groups that, because of religious convictions, discriminate against gays. Testimony and committee discussion on the bill consumed more than four hours. A similar bill by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was killed by House Education early in the 2014 session.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”