Serious privacy concerns with new Summit/Facebook platform, used in 100 schools across the nation

Our concerns about the open-ended data sharing of the  washington-post-front-page-10-12-16 Summit/Facebook software platform was featured on the front page of today’s Washington Post. This software is in 100 schools nationwide, about two thirds of them public schools. The list is here. Two of the schools are in NYC: the Bronx Writing Academy in District 9; and J.H.S. 088 Peter Rouget in District 15 in Brooklyn.

Summit is sharing the student personal data with Facebook, Google, Clever and whomever else they please – through an open-ended consent form that they have demanded parents sign.  A copy of the consent form is here.

I have never seen such a wholesale demand from any company for personal student data, and can imagine many ways it could be abused.  Among other things, Summit/Facebook claims they will have the right to use the big-eye-datapersonal data “to improve their products and services,” to “conduct surveys, studies” and “perform any otheractivities requested by the school. ”

Here is an excerpt:

Summit may collect information that you provide or your child provides directly to Summit, such as contact information, coursework, testing, and grades. Summit also may collect information automatically from browsers, computers, and devices (such as information from cookies and browser and device identifiers in order to remember your preferences)….. Summit may use your child’s information to conduct surveys and studies; develop new features, products, and services; and otherwise as requested by your school or consistent with your consent. … Summit also may disclose information to third-party service providers and partners as directed or authorized by the school. For example, Summit uses Clever, Facebook, and Google to help develop and improve the personalized learning plan software or to provide related educational services on Summit’s behalf.

They claim they won’t use the child’s personal data for targeted ads (as would be banned anyway in the CA law called SOPIPA) but this is among the only restriction. They say they can sell the data “in connection with a corporate transaction, such as the sale of our Services, a merger, consolidation, asset sale.” The one-sided Terms of Service is here; the Privacy Policy is here.

The Summit platform has never been independently vetted for security protections – or shown to yield any educational benefits, and I believe is a very radical way to outsource instruction and student data to private companies.

Other reasons that teachers as well as parents should be concerned:

The Terms of Service claims the right to use the intellectual property intellectual-property-brainof teachers in these schools, including course assignments, etc. and even student work without any recompense: “You Grant Us a non–‐exclusive, perpetual, transferable, sub–‐licensable, royalty–‐free, worldwide License to use content that you post on or in connection with the Services in any manner, media, form, and modes of uses, now known or later developed.”

–Though I’m not an attorney, the Terms of Service seems to explicitly and repeatedly waive any liability  that Summit or FB or any of its partners may have for protecting the data against breaches, complying with state or federal law,  or abiding by their own Terms of Service;

— As the Washington Post article points out, the TOS would force any school or party to the agreement (including teachers) to give up their right to sue in court if they believe their rights or the law has been violated, and limits the dispute to binding arbitration in San Mateo CA – in the midst of Silicon Valley, where Facebook and Google presumably call the shots.  This is the same sort of abuse of consumer rights that that banks and credit card companies have included in their TOS and that the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now trying to ban.

–The CEO of Summit charters, Diane Tavenner, is also the head of the board of the California Charter School Association, which has aggressively tried to get pro-privatization allies elected to California school boards and state office, and has lobbied against any real regulations or oversight to curb charter school abuses in that state.

– –  Summit says they won’t sign individual contracts with school districts or schools, for the    following ostensible reasons, and suggests a legal loophole for states and districts that require such contracts:

Summit Public Schools is unable to sign contracts, MOUs, or other legal documents from other districts, CMOs, or individual schools. Straying from our Summit Partnership contracts would add immeasurable risk to our organization as we are unable to acquire third party validation on different contracts in the way that we did for our own participation agreement. It would not be legally sound for us to enter into two legal contracts with two sets of potentially conflicting commitments for one program.

Some districts that have policies where all third party vendors need to sign one designated contract were able to bypass that requirement given the status of Summit Public Schools as an educational organization rather than a vendor and the nature of the partnership as a free exchange of ideas and services rather than a paid service relationship.

And then they add – presumably to assuage the fears of parents or school administrators:

In order to ensure that our legal agreement meets the high quality demanded by school organizations across the U.S., Summit Public Schools has gone the extra mile to work with one of the best legal teams in the country to draft this agreement. We worked with Jules Polonetsky – CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices – and his team to review our privacy policies and provide his 3rd party stamp of approval. Straying from the language in our participation agreement would add risk as we are unable to also acquire third party validation on different contracts.

What they don’t reveal is that the Future of Privacy Forum is largely funded by the technology industry and the Gates Foundation, and Polonetsky was a big supporter of inBloom.  (Nevertheless, the sample contract they apparently offered to Kentucky schools did not include the binding arbitration clause, though it limits Summit’s liability to $10,000.)

For these and other reasons, I think parents and students should be VERY concerned.  

In my view and that of many other parents, the explosion of ed tech and the outsourcing of student personal data to private corporations without restriction, like this current Summit/Facebook venture, is as risky for students and teachers as the privatization of public education through charter school expansion.  In this case, the risk is multiplied, since the data is going straight into the hands of a powerful charter school CEO – closely linked to Gates, Zuckerberg and Laurene Powell Jobs, among the three wealthiest plutocrats on the planet.

Gates has praised Summit to the skies, has given the chain $11 million, and has made special efforts to get it ensconced in his state of Washington; Zuckerberg is obviously closely entrenched in this initiative, and Laurene Powell Jobs has just granted the chain $10 million to launch a new charter school in Oakland.

I sent the following list of questions to Summit at nine days ago, but have received no response.  Others — especially parents at these schools and/or privacy advocates — might like to send their own questions or resend mine as well.  And if you are a parent or a teacher at one of these schools, please contact me ASAP at  Thanks! Leonie

Questions for Summit:

  1. 1. What is Summit’s definition of “reasonable and comprehensive data protection and security protocols to protect student data”?  What does that specifically include in terms of encryption, independent audits, security training, etc?  And where is that in writing?
  2. 2.   If my child’s data does breach, what rights would I have as a parent to secure damages?
  3. 3.  Does Summit claim unlimited rights to share or utilize my child’s homework and intellectual property without notice or compensation that they are claiming with teacher work in the TOS?
  4. 4. Can Summit specifically itemize the companies/organizations that they will share my child’s data with, aside from those mentioned below?
  5. 5.  Are each of these third parties barred from making further redisclosures of my child’s data?
  6. 6.  Are each of these third parties, and any other organizations or companies or individuals they redisclose to, legally required to abide by the same restrictions as listed under your TOS and PP, including being prevented from using targeted or non-targeted advertising, and/or selling of data, and using the same security protections?
  7. 7. Does Summit promise to inform parents over the course of the year all the additional third parties the company plans to disclose my child’s data to?
  8. 8. What is the comprehensive list of personal data Summit is collecting and potentially sharing from my child?  You mention a limited list below, but does it also include my child’s homework, grades, test scores, economic status, disability, English proficiency status and/or race as well?
  9. 9.  The TOS mentions survey data.  Is there any personal data from my child that Summit promises NOT to collect via a survey or otherwise?  Will parents have the right to see these surveys before they are given and opt out of them, or does signing this consent form basically mean a parent is giving up all their rights under the PPRA?
  10. Why can’t Summit simply give the software platform to schools to use if it is beneficial, along with links to instructional materials, rather than demand as “payment” in the form of all the student information as well?

1   11. Do you promise not to use the information gained to market products directly to students and/or their parents, and are all your partners and/or those they disclose the information to barred from doing so as well?

1   12. The PP says you will use my child’s personal data to develop new educational “products” – what does that mean?  Why can’t you use de-identified data for this purpose?

  1. It also says you will use this data to “communicate with students, parents, and other users.”  What does that mean? What kind of communications will you engage in with my child or with me?
  2. The PP states a parent can “review, correct or have deleted certain personal information”.  Which kind of personal information can I delete, how will I be able to do that and will that stop my child from using the platform?

1    15. The PP also says you will share the data with anyone “otherwise directed or authorized by the school.”  What does that mean? Does my signing a consent form mean that the school can authorize to share this information with ANYONE else, without specifying the sort of third party, for what reason, or without limitation, without informing me or asking for my further consent?

1   16. It says it will send notice of proposed changes to the PP ahead of time to the participating schools; why not parents if you have their contact info?  Shouldn’t they hear this directly from you and immediately if you are considering changes?

  1. Does Summit consider this parent consent form to mean that parents are waiving the privacy rights of their children under all three federal student privacy laws, including FERPA, COPPA and PPRA?

1  18. The PP says that “FERPA permits schools to share students’ information in certain circumstances, including where the school has gotten a parent’s’ consent or where the organization receiving the student data operates as a “school official.” Summit Public Schools operates as a “school official” consistent with the Department of Education’s guidance under FERPA.”  If this is true, why does Summit need to ask for parental consent?  What additional rights does my consent afford Summit that you would not have without consent in terms of the collection, use and disclosure of a student’s personal information?

  1. Summit says that “Participating schools and individual teachers own, and are responsible for, student data provided through the Summit Personalized Learning Platform.” Why don’t students own their own data?
  2. This raises another related question: the Summit Privacy Policy and Terms of Service grants schools and teachers some rights (however limited.) What rights do parents and students have under these conditions?
  3. The TOS says that if schools believe Summit has violated its promises or complied with the law, instead of suing they must submit to binding arbitration in San Mateo CA and are barred from filing class action complaints.  This type of provision has been heavily criticized when banks and credit card companies have included in their consumer agreements, and the Consumer Financial Protection Board is considering restricting their use. Why is this clause any more acceptable in your TOS?
  4. What legal recourse do schools, teachers or parents have if Summit violates the law or its TOS, for example if Summit decides to sell or give away or carelessly store the data given that the TOS  says “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, NEGLIGENCE, WILL SUMMIT, ITS AFFILIATES, OR ANY PARTY INVOLVED IN CREATING, PRODUCING, OR DELIVERING THE SERVICES BE LIABLE FOR DAMAGES OR LOSSES” in any case?
  5. In yet another clause of the TOS, Summit requires schools to “agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend Summit, and its affiliates, licensors, and service providers, and each of their respective officers, directors, contractors, agents… against any and all demands, claims, liabilities, judgements, fines, interest, penalties… etc. including attorneys’ fees etc.” Why the need for so many layers of self-protection and disclaimers of liability?
  6. What rights does a parent have in general if Summit violates the TOS or the PP?  Are they bound to the binding arbitration clause in the TOS that the school must agree to?
  7. In another FAQ here, Summit says that it will not sign contracts or written agreements with individual school districts, and if the state requires this under law, districts or schools should try to “bypass that requirement” by claiming that a) Summit is not subject to the law because it is not a “vendor” but an “educational organization” and b) that they should not have to sign a contract because of the “nature of the partnership as a free exchange of ideas and services rather than a paid service relationship.”  But if you are gaining potential economic and programmatic benefits from your access to student data, including using it to build new and better “products” as the TOS states, why isn’t this a commercial relationship bound by state law?  And if this relationship is truly a “partnership” with a free exchange of ideas, why is the TOS so one-sided and seems to protect Summit from any possible liability, and not the school?

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy relieved Daines/Blumenthal SAFE KIDS Act pulled

For Immediate Release: September 21, 2016

Contact: Rachael Stickland;, 303-204-1272

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy relieved Daines/Blumenthal SAFE KIDS Act pulled
Coalition members feared the bill would open up the floodgates of commercialism


The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, composed of parents, advocates and educators throughout the nation, and whose members led the fight against inBloom, are relieved that the SAFE KIDS Act, co-sponsored by Senators Daine and Blumenthal, scheduled to be marked up in the Commerce Committee today was pulled at the last minute.

Rachael Stickland, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy said, “While we appreciate the sincere motivation of these Senators to put controls on how personal student information is used by companies and organizations, we believe that this bill would have inadvertently further eroded student privacy.  Right now, both the Student Privacy Pledge and FERPA, as well as other federal laws, actually ban the use of student data for non-educational purposes including behavioral advertising, while this bill would seem to have allowed for that possibility.  There is also much confusion and ambiguity in the bill’s language about how parents would be informed about how their children’s data was being used by companies, how to request its deletion, when this would occur, as well as what specific security protections would be required to protect against breaches.”

Josh Golin, Executive Director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, said: “The bill, though well-intentioned, had far too many loopholes to give children the protection from commercial exploitation that they deserve. It allowed unlimited targeted ads to students through the use of apps assigned by schools, as long as these ads were based on personal information gained through an individual online session.  It also exempted some of the most frequently assigned websites and apps such as YouTube.  This is unacceptable, as advertising is harmful to children and detracts from any educational benefits the program might otherwise provide.”

Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of Class Size Matters and the co-chair of the Parent Coalition concluded, “We would like to work with Senators Daine and Blumenthal and the other members of the Commerce Committee on improving this bill to ensure that student privacy is strengthened rather than further eroded, given the push from some sectors of the ed tech industry to exploit our children’s personal information and to treat them as consumers rather than as students.  Parents are increasingly concerned about the accelerated adoption of so-called educational apps in schools; we strongly believe their use must be approached with caution and regulated with a firm hand, to ensure that they do not violate children’s privacy and safety, or undermine the learning experience. We feared that this bill would further open up the floodgates of commercialism.”


Note: POLITICO Morning Tech reported on our press release, found here.

Back to school tip: Take control of how your school shares your child’s “directory information”

Back to school season can be a busy or even stressful time for both parents and children. As the days grow shorter, the “to-do” list grows longer. Number one on the list – because of its importance and time sensitivity – should be to opt out your child from directory information sharing at school.

What is directory information?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, directory information is a limited set of personal “information that is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released” and often includes a student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, etc.  It does NOT include even more intimate and sensitive personal information like test scores, grades, disability or disciplinary records that schools can legally share with companies, contractors and other third parties without parental knowledge or consent for operational, evaluation, and research purposes. The federal government has allowed these growing number of exceptions through regulatory amendments over the last decade or more, described in detail here and here.

The federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) enables schools or school districts to share directory information with any person or organization outside the school/district without parental consent — but only when the school/district provides public notice to parents first. Notice must include:

  • The types of student information that the school/district has designated as directory information;
  • Details about a parent’s right to refuse to allow the school/district to designate any or all of those types of information as directory information; and
  • The amount of time the parent has to notify the school/district in writing that he or she does not want any or all of this information shared with others outside the school.

FERPA allows schools/districts to adopt their own directory information policies, but if they choose to provide students’ directory information to a limited number of third parties, their public notice to parents must specify the individuals, groups or companies who may receive directory information and/or for what purposes. Unfortunately, this public notice may not always be provided, and when it is, it is often difficult to find because it may be buried in hundreds of pages of information during registration, in a student handbook, a parent newsletter, school announcement, local newspaper, or website.

Most schools/districts give parents only ten to thirty days from the start of the school year to exercise their right with regard to directory information, and most offer parents a limited choice between two options:

1) Allow schools and districts to share students’ directory information with anyone including marketing companies and the media — often referred to as “opting in” to sharing directory information; or

2) Refuse to allow schools and districts from sharing directory information with anyone, including parent organizations for purposes of creating school phone directories, graduation brochures, or companies who publish yearbooks — often referred to “opting out” of sharing directory information.

This type of “all-or-nothing” approach presents a huge challenge for many parents. On the one hand, parents don’t want their children’s private information shared with anyone who requests it. On the other hand, most parents would like their children to be included in school-related publications like yearbooks, directories, brochures, and newsletters.

While FERPA doesn’t require schools to allow parents the option to select which types of directory information can be shared with whom, some privacy-minded school districts in Maryland, Montana, and North Carolina, for example, have abandoned the “all-or-nothing” approach for a “menu selection” which gives parents more control over their student’s directory information.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have prepared a model Directory Information Opt Out form for parents to submit to their schools at the start of the school year, as part of a larger privacy toolkit that we will release soon, via a grant from the Rose Foundation.  Our Directory Information Opt Out form is designed to respect the ability of parents to choose what information they would like shared for what purposes, while also protecting their children’s privacy.

Why should parents opt out?

FERPA became law in 1974 at a time when students’ directory information was used primarily in school-sponsored publications like yearbooks, and to identify student athletes for local newspaper articles. Over the last forty years, individuals, groups and companies have recognized the value of this student information – especially with the creation and growth of the Internet – for commercial and non-educational purposes. Companies who access students’ directory information can sell it to others or use it to market products directly to students, political offices can use it to build their voter tracking systems, thieves can use it to steal identities, and perpetrators can use it to stalk students or commit other crimes.

How can parents opt out?

  1. Ask the school or school district for its “directory information” policy.
  2. If the school/district has a policy, read it carefully to find out which personal details are considered directory information and with whom it can or will be shared.
  3. If the policy forces parents to choose between opting in or opting out of all sharing of directory information, parents should opt out to protect their children’s privacy. However, doing so could mean that their children’s names and pictures will not be listed in the yearbook or other school-related publications.
  4. Share the model Directory Information Opt Out form we have prepared with the school’s principal or other school officials and encourage them to adopt a new policy giving parents more control over their children’s information.
  5. If the school/district does not have a directory information policy, ask if they will be sharing student’s directory information with third parties outside of the school. If the answer is yes, explain that FERPA requires that parents must be given public notice as described above, then complete the model Directory Information Opt Out form and submit it to the school/district. Follow-up in writing to ensure that the request will be honored.

Disclaimer: This commentary does not constitute legal advice. Consult a private lawyer or call your local ACLU should you have specific questions.

Download the Directory Information Opt Out from here (.docx) or here (.pdf).


Parent Coalition for Student Privacy opposes dangerous “model” employee & student privacy legislation

Adapted from the EFF website.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy joinbig-brother fotoed the Electronic Frontier Foundation,  ACLU, and a coalition of nearly two-dozen civil liberties and advocacy organizations  to urge the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) to vote down dangerous model employee and student privacy legislation.

The bill, the Employee and Student Online Privacy Protection Act (ESOPPA), is ostensibly aimed at protecting employee and student privacy. But its broad and vaguely worded exceptions and limitations overshadow any protections the bill attempts to provide. As the letter below explains, ESOPPA will result in only further invasions of student and employee privacy.

The ULC is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to researching, drafting, and promoting the enactment of uniform state laws, which it drafts and circulates as “models.” The ULC will vote on ESOPPA on July 11 at its annual meeting, and if it passes, the ULC will circulate the bill to legislators across the country in the hope of uniform adoption in all fifty states. But ESOPPA falls far short of its goal and does not live up to the prevailing standard for protecting social media privacy currently being enacted by the states and as required by the U.S. Constitution.

Social media accounts include vast quantities of sensitive personal information. As the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Riley v. California, searches of digital devices are grave invasions of personal privacy in ways that physical searches could never be. Yet ESOPPA does next to nothing to prevent school administrators and employers—including public school employees and state officials—from coercing or requiring students and employees to turn over private, non-publicly available information from such accounts. The bill not only fails to comport with protections afforded to such sensitive personal communication under the Constitution, but the few protections it purports to provide are ripe for abuse and without measures to ensure accountability.

Furthermore, ESOPPA applies only to students at the college level and beyond, leaving the privacy of K12 students completely exposed.

That’s why we’re asking the ULC to either address ESOPPA’s deficiencies or reject the bill outright at its upcoming meeting. Other organizations, including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), have also sent their own letter to the ULC opposing the current draft of ESOPPA.

You can read the full text of the letter below.

July 6, 2016

Members of the Uniform Law Commission
111 N. Wabash Avenue, Suite 1010
Chicago, Illinois 60602

Oppose Unless Amended: Employment and Student Online Privacy Protection Act

Dear Commissioner:

As civil liberties groups, advocacy organizations, student and parent rights coalitions, and a union representative, we write to you today to express deep concern over the Employee and Student Online Privacy Protection Act (“ESOPPA”). We appreciate the ULC’s interest in protecting the privacy of employees and students alike, but the version of the bill submitted to the full ULC committee for approval at the upcoming annual meeting fails to accomplish that goal in light of its significant deficiencies. While it purports to protect both employees and students, its broad and vaguely worded exceptions and limitations overshadow any protections the bill attempts to provide—doing next to nothing to prevent school administrators and employers from coercing or requiring students and employees to turn over highly sensitive social media account information. These provisions do not comport with the Fourth or Fifth Amendment, and will result in only further invasions of student and employee privacy.

We ask that you not adopt this bill until these issues have been adequately addressed. If these issues are not addressed, we urge you to reject the proposed bill in its entirety. Three of the bill’s provisions are most problematic:

First, the bill authorizes state employers and public educational institutions to require an employee or student to turn over information related to their social media account, including login information and social media content, based merely on “specific information about the student’s protected personal online account,” in order to (i) ensure compliance with, or investigate non-compliance with, federal or state law or an educational institution policy; or (ii) “to protect against . . . a threat to health or safety[.]”

The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), that searches involving technology and electronic devices are grave invasions of personal privacy in ways that physical searches could never be. That case involved cell phones, which the court recognized as especially important due to the many kinds of information they contain: “Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse. . . . The term ‘cell phone’ is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone.” Id. at 2488–89. Social media accounts contain similarly vast amounts of personal information and implicate the very same concerns. Permitting government agents access to students’ and employees’ social media accounts under the vague terms of the current draft of ESOPPA does not comport with the level of protection afforded to such personal information under the Constitution.

Second, although the bill attempts to limit employers or educational institutions access by requiring that any such entity “reasonably attempts to limit its access to content relevant to the purpose justifying that access[,]” such a limit will prove hollow, as it is not technically or practically possible to segregate “relevant” from irrelevant content until all content is accessed. This provision, coupled with the overbroad grant of authority for employers and schools to compel or coerce employees and students to turn over social media account information, renders ESOPPA ripe for abuse by employers and education institutions alike. And the bill includes no measures to ensure accountability.

Third, the limited privacy protections that ESOPPA claims to provide for students have a glaring deficiency—the bill does not apply to most students. ESOPPA provides purported protections only to students at the college level and beyond, leaving the privacy of students at the high school level and below completely exposed. This is not a trivial concern. Students in secondary school and below use social media to learn about and discuss highly sensitive subjects, such as reproductive choices, sexual orientation, gender identity, and political perspectives. In many communities across this country, exposing a student’s perspective on such topics could not only be embarrassing, but it could also place the student’s safety—or even life—at risk. The only option ESOPPA leaves for non-college students who want privacy protection is to not use social media at all. This “option” would do tremendous damages to one of the most vibrant free speech platforms utilized by young people today. This is not acceptable.

We believe it is possible to create a bill that addresses the concerns raised in this letter, protects student and employee privacy, and grants educational institutions and employers the ability to procure social media account information when required or permitted under law, such as when investigating specific allegations of unlawful harassment in the workplace or specific allegations of unlawful bullying by a student or prospective student of another student. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union has worked closely with other advocacy organizations and Internet companies alike on its own model legislation, a version of which was enacted in four states this past legislative session alone. Those laws represent the prevailing standard for protecting social media privacy in 2016. ESOPPA, which is coming out of a three-year planning and drafting process, is already showing its age—and it has not even been voted on by the ULC yet. Unless it is the ULC’s objective to roll back the standard for protecting social media privacy currently being enacted by the states, ESOPPA must be significantly revised before it is adopted. The signatories of this letter fully intend to continue our successful efforts to have true social media privacy bills enacted in the states, and if that requires us to oppose ESOPPA, we certainly will.

In order to ensure that ESOPPA does not impermissibly infringe on employees’ and students’ rights, and to enable us to work with rather than against each other on this important issue, we urge the full ULC Committee to either address these concerns or to reject the bill outright.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.


American Civil Liberties Union

American Library Association

Bill of Rights Defense Committee

Center for Democracy & Technology

Center for Digital Democracy

Common Sense Kids Action

Constitutional Alliance

Consumer Watchdog

Defending Dissent Foundation

Demand Progress

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Fight for the Future

Free Speech Coalition

Government Accountability Project

Michelle Castro, SEIU California,  Director of Government Relations

National Coalition Against Censorship

Network for Public Education

Network for Public Education Action

NYS Allies for Public Education

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

Parents Across America

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Restore the Fourth

Safety Net Project of the National Network
to End Domestic Violence

Woodhull Freedom Foundation

World Privacy Forum

How not to protect student data Colorado style


Picture this: a stranger able to access your children’s bus pick-up and drop-off time and location, able to see their photos, names, phone numbers, home addresses, health records, even lunch account and activity fees. This information was amazingly vulnerable to hacking in the Lewis Palmer School district in Colorado.  Incredibly, the school district posted hints to passwords (the student’s birthday) on the district website. The student login ID and password were the SAME for both Infinite Campus (that stores student grades, demographics and other personally identifiable information) and their Google Apps for Education documents, including their Gmail accounts.  According to a district parent, who prefers to remain anonymous,

Once you logged in with your student account, you could see all names and student IDs of every student in the district, listed alphabetically down the left side of the website, with corresponding student ID.  And since it was advertised that their birthday was the password, any hacker could go onto Facebook, find out a student’s birthday and login to see all their emails and records in Google (GAFE) and in Infinite Campus.”

According to its website, the Lewis Palmer School District has publicly posted login information and clues to student passwords for three years.  At least one parent complained last fall and the school did nothing to address the vulnerability. Apparently, school officials told parents this was just the way it had to be and it was not possible to change it.

Only after a parent spoke at a school board meeting on May 19, did the district-wide become public news, thanks in part to a local reporter who wrote about it in Complete Colorado:

At a school board meeting on May 19th, a concerned parent asked the school board to fix the security breach immediately. The woman said district officials have known about the issue since the beginning of the school year. Melinda Zark told the board that in the fall she spoke to the district’s top two information technology staff members and her children’s principal about the issue with Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which is needed to connect to Infinite Campus.

However, even after the vulnerability was revealed to the school board,  in the story posted in Complete Colorado, discussed on a breach notification site,,  and  on the blog of privacy advocate Bill Fitzgerald who wrote about it here, the Lewis Palmer School District still did not immediately notify all parents of the breach (as recommended by federal guidance and current Colorado law) nor did the district admit fault.

FERPA requires that the agency or institution record an unauthorized disclosure so that a parent or student will become aware of the disclosure during an inspection of the student’s education record. The district also appears to ignore the Colorado’s Department of Education’s guidance to districts that states,

“The personally identifiable information from students’ education records that a district maintains should not be available to all district employees…”Districts should establish clear methods for addressing any breaches in security.  Individuals should be designated for addressing concerns about security breaches and identifying appropriate consequences, which may need to include termination of employment or a contract.”

Nearly a week after the school board meeting, the District finally disabled the access portal to Infinite Campus accounts. As reported in Lewis Palmer’s disingenuous and incoherent account on its website:

“05.25.16 protecting your student and family personal data is of utmost importance to lpsd. yesterday, we discovered a possible security breach through normal monitoring of ip addresses accessing our systems. it appears one individual with legitimate access to our system, using the student portal, may have accessed a few middle and high student ic accounts. the ip address for this individual was immediately blocked. the individual was unable to modify data or transfer data electronically. we will be contacting the parents of the students impacted. if you do not receive a call by the end of the day, you can assume your child’s account was not impacted. we shut down student portal access to ic this morning. we apologize for the inconvenience this will cause. we had hoped to keep ic access for students up through june 1 so that they could view final grades. unfortunately, due to this possible breach, grades must be accessed through the parent portal. additionally, google accounts, where student user names could potentially be viewed, were shut down earlier this week. accounts will be upgraded and security will be enhanced over the summer. if you need assistance with your parent portal access please contact technology services at (719) 488­4700 . ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ at lewis­palmer school district 38, we value protecting student and staff data. we are committed to supporting the use of beneficial online teaching and learning resources, while keeping unnecessary data collection to a minimum. the following graphic shows a quick birds­eye view of some of the concrete steps we take to keep our staff informed and our data safe. staff, please access the spreadsheet below to find the websites / tools that have already been vetted by our team. if you have a tool you’d like to get vetted, please contact your principal to ask how to do this. ask us if you’re ever concerned or confused about wh

Many questions remain about this district’s handling of student data. What personal data was accessed and is there a record of who accessed it? Also, the newly adopted technology and privacy policies seem suspect. According to the Complete Colorado news story,

During the meeting on Thursday, board member Sarah Sampayo was the only board member to recognize the concern. She brought it up as the district was discussing two new policies that deal with privacy and cyber rules. One policy asks parents and students to sign a waiver stating they understand there is no expectation of privacy when they use district technology, and the other protects the district against unauthorized use of its technology that may cause harm to a student.

Sampayo questioned the district’s technology director, Liz Walhof, about whether the district planned to make changes to the Gmail accounts. “How easily accessible is that uniquely identifying [student identification] number to the vast community,” Sampayo asked. “And is our kids’ information then protected because you can then log in … with just the kid’s ID number.”

Walhof said they continue to look into better formats, but added that right now it is not possible to issue an email without using the student’s ID number.”

What are these two new technology policies?  The first, policy JS, states that “Students shall have no expectation of privacy when using district technology resources…Students should not expect that files stored on district resources will be kept private.”

It would seem this blanket waiver may violate existing federal laws including COPPA and FERPA  as well as current Colorado privacy law and the impending new state law which has stronger protections for student data transparency and privacy and security.

Students cannot waive all their rights to privacy in such a radical manner, even if the school district wants them to do so. School district officials can have access to personal student data but only those with a specific interest and responsibility to that child.  Also, although FERPA allows school officials to disclose personal student information to third parties, these exceptions are limited in law and regulation and restricted to those with legitimate educational interests, for the purposes of research, evaluation or audit, or in cases of health and safety emergencies.  Requiring students to waive all their privacy rights as this policy implies would thus seem to violate federal law.

In addition, by posting online the log-in information for all students, including their ID numbers, and publicly advertising that the passwords to gain access are their birth dates – which are readily accessible to district employees and many others – this appears to be an open invitation to breach the system.

The second new district policy JS-E further requires parents to waive any costs or claims from damages incurred by their children’s use of the school’s technology.

If districts and schools are mandating that students use these devices, they must be responsible for keeping their personal information safe. We urge parents in this Lewis Palmer School District to contact the U.S.  Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and file a FERPA complaint, pointing out how the required blanket waiver appears to violate the privacy protections required under FERPA…  The complaint form is here:

The form can also be downloaded, filled out and emailed to    If a parent needs help or advice with this, you contact us at 

Lewis Palmer parents should also ask their district and school board to immediately commission an independent security audit, to address the weaknesses in the system and determine which individuals or companies may have improperly accessed student personal information. What specific data was breached? Was personal information in Infinite Campus accessed by Google, through their Apps for Education? Why were the same user ID and password used for both systems and advertised on the school website? Why was this practice not halted immediately once the vulnerability was brought to the school board’s attention last fall? Why were parents’ concerns dismissed?

In addition, parents should urge that their district immediately adopt other security protections such as encryption for student data and training for all school district employees.  See our five principles to protect student privacy for more on what policies and practices should be adopted by all school districts and states.

At the very least, we believe that this mishandling of student data reveals troubling negligence on the part of the school district. How Lewis Palmer resolves this breach should be a litmus test for other districts and should serve as a wak­e-up call for all parents and schools.

  • Cheri Kiesecker, Leonie Haimson and Rachael Stickland on behalf of Parent Coalition for Student Privacy