'you must protect it'

Data privacy bill clears Senate committee – with tweaks

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jefferson County work on their assigned iPads during a class project.

A bill designed to strengthen the privacy and security of student educational data continued down its apparently smooth path to passage Wednesday, winning unanimous Senate Education Committee approval.

The measure previously was approved 11-0 by the House Education Committee and passed the full House 65-0.

House Bill 16-1423 includes a detailed definition of personally identifiable information that must be protected, restrictions on software companies and other vendors, and additional transparency and disclosure requirements for the state Department of Education and school districts. The bill also sets controls over classroom apps and software used by individual teachers, a currently unregulated area.

“If you collect it you must protect it,” said sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

Hill said that he didn’t want a bill imposing “a heavy hand” on educational technology and that he believes it strikes the right balance.

The definition of protected personal information has an important twist: it also requires protection of seemingly unidentifiable information that, when cross-referenced with other, outside databases, could identify a student.

Districts and the state collect a long list of data on students, including personal information, test scores, special education information, disciplinary records and more.

Despite the 9-0 committee vote, members sounded cautionary notes.

“I’m not sure this isn’t obsolete before we pass it,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

Said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton: “In my opinion this is a very, very small start.”

Hill and the House sponsors have acknowledged that technological complexity and rapid change likely mean future legislatures will need to refine the law.

Industry lobbyists and representatives aren’t comfortable with the bill’s definition of personally identifiable information and provisions for contract revocation if a company violates the law.

An amendment proposed by Hill and adopted by the committee would create some due process for companies accused of breaching student privacy. The original bill called for termination of contracts. The amendment specifies that the Department of Education and local school boards must first allow a vendor to explain data misuse or breach and hold a public hearing before deciding whether to terminate a contract.

Industry representatives acknowledge the bill is likely to become law and say they don’t plan a last-minute fight. School districts, traditionally hypersensitive to state mandates imposed without funding, haven’t objected to the bill, either.

Other key elements of HB 16-1423:

  • Bans on selling personal student information and advertising targeted to individual students.
  • Contractor responsibility for subcontractors’ actions.
  • Adoption of privacy policies by school boards.
  • Posting of information about contracts on district websites. The bill was amended to require the state and districts to post the contract texts online.
  • Districts also must post and explain the type of personally identifiable information collected.
  • Specific requirements for data security and for removal after contracts end. An amendment added Monday says such data can’t be retrievable.
  • Guaranteed parent access to information about the data collected on their children and the right to have it corrected.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”