Respect For Students!

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The question most frequently asked by voters is "Why?" Why did school officials seize our children's data and move it to Minnesota?

Who really knows? We can't read their minds, and they aren't talking much. When they do talk, it's frequently to make excuses. Maybe some of the board members themselves aren't really certain. But, for the sake of our childen, each of us must consider the available facts and draw our own conclusions.


The WCSU executive committee made the initial decision to purchase new student information software. The materials reviewed by the committee focus on the software purchase and do not emphasize student rights or surrendering personal information to outsiders. Nor do they include any substantive security analysis or discussion of strategic alternatives.

The executive committee is not elected by the voters; its members are appointed by the local school boards.


The decision to seize and surrender student data to vendor control came during what was perhaps a confusing transitional period between two district superintendents. The former superintendent was in her final days; the current superintendent had not yet officially started.


Did our school officials steal our children's personal information because they were required to do so by law?

No. Although Vermont's voluntary participation in the federal "ESEA flexibility" program (relief from NCLB testing regime) has required construction of a statewide student database, legal control of its contents remains with the Vermont legislature. The ESEA flexibility program imposes no special mandate or requirement for school officials to transfer individual student information to third-parties.

Government agencies are not generally authorized to collect student information at the individual level. Our voter-advocated policy provides an explicit exception for data reporting that is actually mandated by law. Such reporting is relatively modest and almost always in summary (rather than individual) form. Even the recent regulatory exceptions to FERPA say only that a school MAY release personal information; they do not say that a school MUST release personal information. In certain circumstances, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act requires release of student information, but that requirement is limited to major disciplinary events (e.g., suspensions or expulsions). Of course, schools must release information to outsiders in cases of suspected child abuse, or when the government financially audits a specific school program, but these circumstances are unusual, have narrowly proscribed purpose, and seem reasonable to most people.

Not only is all legally required reporting almost entirely statistical, but the U.S. Department of Education recommends tight limits on reporting whenever there may be the slightest possibility of individual disclosure. Despite this, some school officials continue falsely to claim a legal mandate to export personal information that they don't own to strangers outside the local district.


Sometimes, school officials claim sweeping legal mandates for individual student data collection and reporting, when really they are just advancing some ugly political agenda. Even our own district superintendent has been a long-time proponent of massive statewide data collection projects. But neither Minnesota software companies nor big, federally-funded software projects have the force of state law or local school policy in Vermont. Policy should shape software, not vice versa.


Did our school officials really believe that surrendering our children's personal information to outsiders would somehow make it more secure? It doesn't.


Did our school officials really think that surrendering our children's personal information to outsiders would dramtically reduce our IT costs? It didn't. Rather, unless we are willing to continue abusing our students' most basic human rights, it may actually increase our costs.


Perhaps in accepting the initial software recommendation, the executive committee may not have fully appreciated its implications. But, more than a year later, local school boards have had ample opportunity to stand up for the basic human rights of students and parents. School officials hate giving up power, but students, parents, and voters deserve better from school board members than their habitual deference to unelected administrators.

Why should we care?

Isn't our children's personal information already "out there"?

Absolutely not! Student privacy is not dead. Assaults on student privacy by federal and state bureaucrats, albeit focused and determined, are not the political fiat that might be claimed or imagined; federal law actually invites our state legislature to protect our children from the worst effects of educational "reform." Our local school boards can protect our students from the most creepy initiatives. Those who complain that student privacy is dead either have not done their homework or perhaps derive some secret enjoyment from stripping children of their basic human rights.