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

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”