During that first week of school, I always have one night where I sit in the middle of the family room surrounded by piles of forms. By bedtime, I have memorized the dentist’s number, learned how to spell penicillin, and established a new record for the fastest signature. With so many forms to fill out, I often give each a cursory glance and zip right down to filling in the blanks.
I have never questioned providing any of this information. I provide my children’s full name, address, medical history as well as authorizing the use and release of their information without knowing anything about my school’s policy on data collection. I would never let my children enter this information on a website. But with their school, I just assume the school collects what is necessary and keeps student records safe.
In 2009, Fordham University Center on Law and Information Policy examined how data is collected and stored by educational agencies in all 50 states. The study found that state educational databases across the country ignored key privacy protections for the nation’s K – 12 children. Some states stored personalized information relating to teen pregnancies, mental health, and juvenile crime in a manner that violated federal privacy mandates. Also, a few states outsourced the data processing without any restrictions on use or confidentiality for K- 12 children’s information.
In order to keep track of so much information, states are finding it easy to use social security numbers (SSNs) as unique identifiers. According to the Social Security Agency, 7 states have a state law requiring a SSN for enrollment in K-12 schools and at least 26 that do not have a law still collect SSNs. Due to the growing risk of children’s identity theft, the Social Security Agency recommends schools stop using Social Security Numbers and move to assigning student ID numbers.
If you are curious about your state, check out the Social Security Agency Report and the Fordham Law report which contains links to many state education websites. For more information, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) published a new brochure Protecting Your Child’s Personal Information at School. The brochure contains great tips such as:
- Pay attention to materials sent home. Read your school districts policies on student records. Question your schools use of a social security number and encourage your school to use a student ID number.
- Read the notice schools must distribute that explains your rights under the federal Family Educational Rights Privacy Act. Check out the Department of Education for more info .
- Programs that take place at the school but aren’t sponsored by the school may have different policies. Many sports teams have online registrations and websites where schedules and pictures can be posted and shared. Be sure to read the privacy policies for these websites and contact the program if you have questions.
- Find out who has access to your child’s personal information, and verify that the records are kept in a secure location
- Take action if your child’s school experiences a data breach. If you believe your child’s information has been compromised, the FTC recommends first contacting the school and keep a written record of your conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator, and to the school board if necessary. Also contact the Family Policy Compliance Office, at the U.S. Department of Education.