A new coalition called the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy released a letter today to the leaders of the committees of the House and Senate Education Committees, urging Congress to strengthen FERPA and involve parents in the decision-making process to ensure that their children’s privacy is protected.
Many of the groups and individuals in the Coalition were involved in the battle over inBloom, which closed its doors last spring. They were shocked to learn during this struggle how federal privacy protections and parental rights to protect their children’s safety through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) had eroded over the last decade.
The letter is posted here(pdf), and calls for Congress to hold hearings and enact new privacy protections that would minimize the sharing of highly sensitive student data with vendors and among state agencies and would maximize the right of parents to notification and consent. The letter also asks for strict security requirements, that the law be enforceable through fines, and that parents have the right to sue if their children’s privacy is violated.
Rachael Stickland, a leader in the fight for student privacy in Colorado and co-chair of the Coalition to Protect Student Privacy points out, “inBloom’s egregious attempt to siphon off massive amounts of sensitive student information and to share it with for-profit vendors took parents by surprise. Once we learned that recent changes to FERPA allowed non-consensual disclosure of highly personal data, parents became fierce advocates for their children’s privacy. We’re now prepared to organize nationally to promote strong, ethical privacy protections at the state and federal levels.”
Diane Ravitch, President of the Network for Public Education said: “Since the passage of FERPA in 1974, parents expected that Congress was protecting the confidentiality of information about their children. However, in recent years, the US Department of Education has rewritten the regulations governing FERPA, eviscerating its purpose and allowing outside parties to gain access to data about children that should not be divulged to vendors and other third parties. The Network for Public Education calls on Congress to strengthen FERPA and restore the protection of families’ right to privacy.”
“The uprising against inBloom demonstrated the extent to which parents will not tolerate the misuse of their children’s sensitive personal information,” said Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s Associate Director Josh Golin. “But parents cannot be expected to mobilize against each and every threat to their children’s privacy, particularly if they’re not even aware of which vendors have access to student data. It is critical that Congress take real steps to protect schoolchildren from those who see student data as a commodity to be exploited for profit.”
“Parents Across America, a national network of public school parents, emphatically supports this call for hearings as a first step toward reversing federal actions that have eroded parental authority over student data, and including even stronger privacy protections for our children,” said Julie Woestehoff, a Chicago parent activist and PAA secretary. She added: “PAA recommends restoring parental authority over student data that was removed from FERPA by the US Department of Education, enacting state laws that include parental opt out provisions in any statewide data sharing program, strictly regulating in-school use of electronic hardware and software that collect student information, and including significant parent representation on any advisory committees overseeing student data collection.”
Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Massachusetts public education advocacy group, said, “Citizens for Public Schools members, including many parents, are deeply concerned about threats to the privacy of student information. We support hearings and strong legislation to protect the privacy of this data. Parents are increasingly left out of important education policy discussions. In this, as in all crucial school policy discussions, they must have a voice.”
“Parents will accept nothing less than parental consent, when it comes to their child’s personally identifiable sensitive information. As a parent of a child with special needs, I understand the devastation that confidential information used without my consent could have on my child’s future. As a long-time advocate for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, I implore the U.S. House and Senate to put the necessary language back into FERPA to protect students and uphold the right of their families to control their personally identifiable data,” said Lisa Rudley, Director of Education Policy, Autism Action Network and Co-Founder of NYS Allies for Public Education.
Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project said, “Regardless of intention, the collection of an individual’s personal information is a source of discomfort and intimidation. Government’s broad collection of such information threatens to undermine America’s founding structure: if government intimidates the people, government cannot be by and for the people.”
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of the Coalition, concluded, “Since inBloom’s demise, many of the post-mortems have centered around the failure of elected officials and organizations who support more data sharing to include parents in the conversation around student privacy. We are no longer waiting to be invited to this debate. It is up to parents to see that we are heard , not only in statehouses but also in the nation’s capital when it comes to the critical need to safeguard our children’s most sensitive data – which if breached or misused could harm their prospects for life. We are urging Congress to listen to our concerns, and act now.”