Students' names, education records posted on website
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
6/06/12 at 6:24 PM
Hours after the State Board of Education deliberated behind closed doors over seven students’ appeals for exemptions from high-stakes testing requirements Tuesday, state officials posted the private educational records of each of those students on the state website.
All seven students were denied an exemption from the law that requires high school seniors to pass at least four of seven end-of-instruction tests to earn a diploma.
The Internet posting includes names, grade point averages, school districts, learning disabilities, test scores and other information. Addresses and phone numbers were redacted.
It prompted an outcry Wednesday from Tulsa-area educators and attorneys who said the state Department of Education’s action violates state and federal educational privacy laws.
Under a new law allowing students to appeal for an exemption from testing requirements under the Achieving Classroom Excellence — or ACE — law, students are required to sign a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act waiver to enter the appeals process.
But educators say that waiver doesn’t cover placing students’ private information on the Internet.
“This is just a violation of even common courtesy, as well as FERPA, which is federal law,” Union Superintendent Cathy Burden said. “This is exposing confidential test information, by name, of students who hadn’t anticipated such a thing. I’m just kind of appalled. We would never do this. It’s just common professionalism.”
Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall was particularly concerned about the release of private information online. Four of the seven students were from Broken Arrow High School.
“I think what bothers me is we always consider what’s best for kids. I don’t think parents or kids want their personal identifiable information to be placed out for all to see,” he said.
But department spokesman Damon Gardenhire said there is “longstanding precedent” by the department for providing board materials to reporters and members of the public.
“Appeals of every kind filed with the department are an open record, and ACE appeals are no exception,” he said. “Students, parents or legal guardians are not obligated to sign the FERPA waiver or to bring the student’s academic record into the public eye.”
When asked about why the board discussed students’ appeals in executive session, Gardenhire said deliberations by board members are protected by executive session — much as a judge or jury might privately deliberate over public evidence — and that the records remain public.
But Jenks Public Schools spokeswoman Bonnie Rogers said that “the State Board of Education discussed the appeals that were denied in executive session, one would assume, to provide confidentiality for these students.”
“Although each of them signed a FERPA waiver, the decision to post this type of information is ethically questionable and is not in the best interest of the students.”
Andrea Kunkel, staff attorney for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, said revealing personal identifying information along with academic records is not part of Oklahoma Open Records Act requirements.
“It seems to me if somebody from the state department said, “Look we have an Open Records Act obligation to release this information now,” even if that was correct, at a minimum you would redact all personally identifiable information about a student so that people couldn’t tell who it was or where they were from,” she said.
Many educators and attorneys wondered whether the information was posted to scare students away from filing appeals with the state board.
“It’s almost like they are trying to embarrass or upset the people who are appealing,” Mendenhall said.
Kunkel echoed his thoughts and said it could have a chilling effect on students’ rights to appeal their denial of a high school diploma.
“Just personally, as an attorney, I have a problem with requiring people to sign a waiver in this process and have their personal information to be used in a public meeting at all,” she said.
“It’s one thing to release information and say you can consider all this information, but it seems like another thing to say you have to sign this particular waiver form and you’re not going to be able to go through this process unless you do. It appears you have no choice but to give up your rights and have this information discussed in an open meeting.
“I’m just amazed. I just cannot imagine why this is a good idea and why the public needs to know,” Kunkel said.
U.S. Department of Education officials told the Tulsa World their FERPA experts were unavailable for comment Wednesday.
What the FERPA waiver says:
“The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 is a federal law that establishes the rights of students with regard to education records, and ensures students and families of the right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to those records. This form is provided as a means for students, parents and/or guardians to give the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Board of Education permission to discuss and/or disclose the academic records of the student, including any and all IEP information and data, with someone other than themselves (i.e. with a parent, guardian etc.) This authorization would allow the student’s academic record and needs to be discussed or considered during State Department of Education meetings that may be open to the public to the extent necessary to provide the student or family with academic services requested by the student, parent or guardian.”
Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education
Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi, lower left, leads a State Board of Education meeting Tuesday about appeals from high school students who failed state-mandated end-of-instuction exams. DAVID McDANIEL/The Oklahoman