Student Privacy

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

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.

The sharing of student information is at the center of the latest squabble between Shelby County Schools and state-authorized charter schools — making it more important than ever for Memphis parents to know what’s at stake.

Charter operators want the data so they can notify families about their options and recruit students to their schools. But local district leaders don’t want to share their students’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. One board member called the effort “predatory” tactics to take students away from Shelby County Schools.

This week, state officials stepped in and sided with charter operators. Based on a sweeping charter law that went into effect in July, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to cooperate.

For Beverly Davis, who heads a parent-teacher organization for several schools in Whitehaven, the prospect of charter operators canvassing her neighborhood is exasperating.

“It’s like a bill collector calling and you have no choice but to take their call,” she said. “We should be able to refuse a call from (charter operators). We already know they’re here. They’re on every corner.”

Danny Song sees it differently. The leader of Believe Memphis Academy, a charter school opening in 2018, he says families should be able to learn about all the schools available to them.

“It’s about equal access,” he said. “Prior to this law, we kind of had to guess where our students live.”

Here’s what you should know about student information laws and policies — and why it’s important:

Some student information is accessible by the public.

Known as “student directory information,” this basic data can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. Anyone can ask for and receive it under the federal student privacy law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. It’s often used for lists like graduation programs, sports rosters or honor rolls. Vendors also can obtain this info to offer products and services such as class rings or yearbooks.

This is the information that Tennessee charter schools have sought to canvass neighborhoods and recruit students — and that Shelby County Schools has refused to provide.

For Shelby County Schools, student directory information is defined as:

  • name
  • address and email
  • phone number
  • date and place of birth
  • major field of study
  • participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • date of attendance
  • degrees and awards received
  • most recent previous school district or institution attended

A lot of information is not publicly accessible.

That includes grades, transcripts, student course schedules, health records, student discipline files, class lists, and education plans for students with disabilities. Only “need-to-know” people such as teachers, parents and administrators have regular access to this kind of information.

Sometimes, however, local school districts grant access to government agencies, researchers, school accreditors or juvenile justice officials. Such entities must agree to the district’s policies for protecting student privacy.

The current debate is over student directory information.

California-based Green Dot Public Schools, a charter operator with five Memphis schools, asked Shelby County Schools in July for some student directory information, which already is public under federal law.

Shelby County Schools refused Green Dot’s request earlier this month. District leaders said the new state law only applies to its own district-authorized charter schools, not to state-run charter schools like Green Dot’s.

(The local district’s first refusal to provide student data to the state-run Achievement School District in 2015 was also for student directory information.)

Feeling queasy? You can opt out.

Shelby County Schools is required to send a notice to parents at the beginning of each school year about how student information is used. Parents have the option to leave their contact information out of the student directory, or other such lists.

Or, you can write a letter requesting that your student’s directory information remain private. Write to either of the addresses below:

Shelby County Schools
Student Records Department
160 S. Hollywood St.
Memphis, TN 38112

Shelby County Schools
Department of Attendance and Discipline
Shelby County Schools
2800 Grays Creek
Arlington, TN 38002

Day without a Teacher

These Colorado school districts are canceling classes for teacher protests

Empty Chairs And Desks In Classroom (Getty Images)

Thousands of Colorado teachers are expected to descend on the state Capitol Thursday and Friday to call on lawmakers to make a long-term commitment to increasing K-12 education funding.

These Colorado districts have announced they’re canceling classes because they won’t have enough teachers and other staff on hand to safely have students in their buildings. They include eight of the state’s 10 largest districts, serving more than 400,000 students.

Some charter schools, including DSST and STRIVE Prep, are joining the teacher demonstrations, and others are not. Parents whose children attend charter schools in these districts should check with the school.

Unless otherwise noted, classes are canceled for the entire day on Friday, April 27.

  • Jeffco Public Schools, serving 86,100 students (classes canceled Thursday, April 26)
  • Denver Public Schools, serving 92,600 students (early dismissal scheduled for Friday, April 27)
  • Douglas County School District, serving 67,500 students
  • Cherry Creek School District, serving 55,600 students
  • Adams 12 Five Star Schools, serving 38,900 students
  • St. Vrain Valley School District, serving 32,400 students
  • Poudre School District, serving 30,000 students
  • Colorado Springs School District 11, serving 27,400 students
  • Thompson School District, serving 16,200 students

Teachers who miss work to engage in political activity generally have to take a personal day to do so.

This list will be updated as we hear from more districts.

Future of Schools

Indiana lawmakers are bringing back a plan to expand takeover for Gary and Muncie schools

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

It’s official: Lawmakers are planning to re-introduce a controversial plan to expand state takeover of the Gary and Muncie school districts when they come back May 14 for a one-day special session.

Indiana Republican leaders said they believe the plan, which would give control of Muncie schools to Ball State University and strip power from the Gary school board, creates opportunities for both districts to get on the right track after years of poor decision-making around finances.

“Two state entities year after year ignored requests from the legislature to get their fiscal health in order,” said Senate President David Long. “We understand there’s going to be some politics associated with it.”

But Indiana Democrats strongly oppose the takeovers, and House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Austin, said bringing back the “heinous” takeover plan is too complicated to be dealt with in one day. Democrats had cheered when the bill unceremoniously died last month after lawmakers ran out of time during the regular session and lambasted Republican for calling for an extension to revisit it.

“This is not a thing that can be idly approved without full consideration,” Goodin said. “Because you are talking about the latest step to take the education of our children out of the hands of local school boards and parents and placing it under the control of Big Brother.”

But lawmakers’ push to expand district takeovers come as the state’s education officials are stepping back from taking control of individual schools. In this case, as with last year’s unprecedented bill that took over Gary schools, finances appear to be the driving motivation behind lawmakers’ actions, not academics. Typically, state takeover of schools has come as a consequence for years of failing state letter grades.

Gary schools have struggled for decades to deal with declining enrollment, poor financial management and poor academic performance. Although the Muncie district hasn’t seen the same kind of academic problems, it has been sharply criticized for mishandling a $10 million bond issue.

“All I had to hear is that a $10 million capital bond was used for operating expenses,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said, since those funds are intended to make improvements to buildings. “Fiscal irresponsibility is paramount, but also fiscal irresponsibility translates to educational irresponsibility as well.”

Bosma said that Ball State and Gary officials were on board with resurrecting House Bill 1315. Another part of the bill would develop an early warning system to identify districts in financial trouble.

The provisions in the bill would only apply to public school districts, but other types of schools, including online charter schools and private schools accepting taxpayer-funded vouchers, have had recent financial situations that have raised serious questions and even led to closure.

Bosma said those schools have their own fiscal accountability systems in place, but recent attempts to close gaps in state charter law and have private schools with voucher students submit annual reports to the state have gone mostly nowhere.

Both Bosma and Long said their plan to reconsider five bills during the special session, including House Bill 1315, had passed muster withGov. Eric Holcomb. But district takeover was not mentioned in Friday’s statement from Holcomb, nor did he say it was one of the urgent issues lawmakers should take up when he spoke to reporters in mid-March.

Instead, he reiterated his support for getting a $12 million loan from the state’s Common School Fund for Muncie schools and directing $10 million over the next two years to the state’s Secured School Fund. The money would allow districts to request dollars for new and improved school safety equipment and building improvements.