Student data storage debate: Parents say it's a privacy issue

WVLA Staff
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POSTED: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 10:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, May 19, 2013 - 9:49am

The Louisiana Department of Education has backed out of a contract to keep your child's personal information in a virtual data storage program. Outraged parents begged the department to stop the storage. They said it's an invasion of children's privacy. But the fight to keep the data out of a storage system isn't over.

"They are human beings not data sets," Hannah Wilems, data storage opponent, explained.

Wilems has three kids. Kids she wants to protect, which is something she worried she couldn't do, if the Louisiana Department of Education decided to keep every student's information in a data storage program.

"It immediately raised red flags," she said.

The Department partnered with the InBloom data-storage program in 2012. The program allowed the state to collect and store students contact information and test scores.

"I wouldn't say I feel violated, but I definitely feel like taken advantage of a little bit," Wilem explained. "We are hearing a lot of vague promises from the Department of Education and BESE that they know what's right, and they know what my kids need. All this information will help them help my children, but no one is coming to me their parent and asking me whether I want to participate in this."

Wilems is not alone in her concern. Other parents packed the April BESE meeting to share their frustration with the state. They did not want the state to use InBloom.

"There are no conditions under which I could support Louisiana joining inBloom," Wilems said.

In mid April the state deleted the students data from program.

Wilems believes it was a win for families, but she's worried the state could try to use a similar program in the future.

"The very fact that Supt. White gave assurances of the database's security at the April BESE meeting and then only a few days later stated he was pulling the data because of unstated concerns only makes me more suspicious about his dealings with inBloom and the lack of information provided to the public," Wilems said. 

She still has a lot of questions about using data storage programs. Questions she said the state has not answered.

"What happens to all this data? How long does it follow them," Wilems asked.

She does not believe the state can keep her childrens information safe.

"What is a remedy for my child's information their social security number their education data. We can say there are a lot of what if's and that their are safe guards in place but there will be breaches I'm sure of," Wilems expressed.

Parents were not the only ones worried.

"We are going to have all our children's information all the test they've taken stored. And we are supposed to believe it's not going to be missed used by those individual's looking to make a quick buck," Steve Monaghan, President of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, expressed his doubts about the program.

Monaghan says the state needs to do more to explain what they would do with the information.

"We have to slow the train down and ask what we are trying to do here," He said.

Before the state ditched it's data storage partnership La. Dept of Education officials said in a statement, "Every state in the nation, and all of our school districts in Louisiana, use computer-based information systems in which to store information. There are strict laws regarding the access that any company providing digital storage space has to student information and as to how those data can be used. The State is fully committed to upholding the right of family and student privacy."

John White,State Superintendent of Education, explained to worried parents at an April BESE board meeting using a data storage program would allow the state to share information with partners to help enhance children's learning experience.

"Those information have to be kept on file. Ultimately if there is a transportation company you need to give them the address of where the child lives. If there is a company that supports kids through instructional reports, some tutoring they need to know the name of the child," White explained, prior to stopping the data storing program.

"Could it be used for teachers to help students, Yeah," Monaghan stated. "But should there be strict controls on who gets the information and how they get that information absolutely."

Parents are worried that using a data storage program could mean businesses get a hold of their kids personal history.

"William does poorly on a few math test and is my mail box going to start being stuffed with Kaplan tutoring offers," Wilems said.

They say storing data is a privacy issue.

"Once the information is out there you can't take it back," Wilems stated. "There are people out there that could really use this for nefarious purposes if they really really wanted to."

"All of us whether it's a school system or whether it's the state are required to operate under federal laws, and state laws don't allow the sharing of data unless it's allowed under state laws under penalty of felony," White said in April.

"That doesn't satisfy me as a parent," Wilems exclaimed. "These are my kids."

Still, Wilems says she never wants to see her kids information stored or shared.

"My kids are in school to get an education not get sold products and services," Wilems said. "I don't want Louisiana to participate."

Department of education officials still want to use a program like an InBloom. Something White will talk to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and parents about at the board's next meeting in June.
 

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