Dept. of Education cuts back on release of student records

What if you heard that your school was about to share your Social Security number, your standardized test scores and your health records with a private group?

Sound scary? Until a district court judge reversed a ruling in a recent court case, this situation was going to become a reality for public schools across the state.

Pursuant to a court order, sensitive student records regarding things like Social Security, demographics and special education assessments were set to be released on April 1 by the California Department of Education.

But last week, in response to overwhelming public protest in the form of phone calls and written objections, Judge Kimberly Mueller backtracked on her previous court order, ruling instead that the “most sensitive” records will remain with the CDE, which will assist the plaintiffs’ attorneys in accessing the massive database instead of releasing all the records to them, according to a Fox News article.

In a Feb. 1 online notice, the CDE stated that “no student’s identifying records will be disclosed to the public.”

As CHS social studies teacher and former federal prosecutor Bill Schrier explains, “The lawsuit [asked] for [the] information, not to be publicized, but to be placed under protective order, which means no one else [would] be able to see it.”

The issue boils down to a five-year-old legal battle over whether students with disabilities have been receiving proper education funds. The plaintiffs, two Bay Area nonprofits, are suing the CDE.

“While there has been an overarching statement in the court case…there have been no specific concerns shared with the public,” says Heath Rocha CUSD’s chief student services officer of the details.

The student records serve the sole purpose of statistical analysis, and would have only been available to fewer than ten court-appointed analysts.

Nonetheless, the magnitude of the release itself was daunting: According to a USA Today article, it potentially could’ve applied to 10 million current and former public school students. Unsurprisingly, this caused concern statewide.

“We’ve had that kind of personal information released about the faculty before,” Schrier points out. “All of our salaries are out there, all of our hours, our retirement…. Now as for private information of students, that’s a little different.”

While not a party to the litigation, CUSD will have to comply with any releases of information granted in the coming months.

-Michael Montgomery