Advocates Release Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy

For more information:
Rachael Stickland, (303) 204-1272 rachael@studentprivacymatters.org
Josh Golin, (617) 896-9369, josh@commercialfreechildhood.org

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 – Amid growing concerns about data privacy and surveillance, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy (PCSP) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) have created an important resource for parents to understand and safeguard students’ personal information.

The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Child’s Sensitive School Data from Snoops, Hackers, and Marketers is a vital resource in an age where nearly all school records are stored digitally, and where learning, homework, and administrative tasks are increasingly conducted online. Available free to parents on CCFC and PCSP’s websites, the Toolkit offers clear guidance about federal laws that do—and don’t—protect students’ privacy, helps parents ask the right questions about their schools’ data policies, and offers simple steps parents can take to advocate for better privacy policies and practices in their children’s schools.

Rachael Stickland, Co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, explained that many parents are under the false impression that sensitive student records are stored securely in a paper file under lock and key in the principal’s office. “As a parent of two school-aged children, I know first-hand how difficult it is to comprehend the sheer amount of digital data students generate during the course of a normal school day and what that means for our children’s future. With districts outsourcing operations like bus, cafeteria, and instructional services to vendors who store student personal data in the ‘cloud’ and share it with third parties, including state and federal agencies, it’s more important than ever for parents to take some control over their children’s information. It’s not too late to take action when it comes to protecting our children’s privacy.”

A new report issued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that students’ activities and information are being monitored by tech companies through devices and software used in classrooms. The data collected by schools and technology vendors often include kids’ names, birth dates, browsing histories, grades, test scores, disabilities, disciplinary records, and more, without adequate privacy and security protections or the consent of parents. Yet few guides exist to help parents navigate the confusing patchwork of laws and regulations that govern student privacy, or help them promote stronger protections.

Other currently available resources are overly technical, filled with jargon, or skewed to the interests of educational technology companies rather than parents and students. CCFC and PCSCP’s new Toolkit, designed with input from experts in education, data privacy, and federal law, is designed to put the needs of families first.

“You shouldn’t need a PhD or law degree to ensure that your child’s sensitive student data isn’t shared with commercial entities,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Our Toolkit demystifies student privacy and empowers parents to set limits on who accesses the information collected by schools and other third parties about their children.”

Stefanie Fuhr, a Minnesota mother of three, said, “I will be sharing the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy with parents, teachers, and school administrators, because I don’t think many are aware of the use and potential misuse of a child’s educational data, which can have a profound impact on a child’s future prospects. I plan to meet with my school’s principal with a copy of the Toolkit in hand, and start the conversation with the suggested questions it provides.”

“The Toolkit is comprehensive and quite informative,” said Tim Farley, a father and high school principal in New York. “It is appealing to the eye, written in a manner that’s easy to understand by most parents, and it has the information parents need to protect their children’s privacy.”

Education and privacy advocates are hailing this unique new resource. Faith Boninger of the National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder, said, “The toolkit is a great resource. It walks parents through the many ways that children’s data may be collected and used without their knowledge or consent, and explains what they can do about it. It explains federal student privacy law in plain English. And it includes specific, useful models for advocacy, like questions that parents can ask teachers and principals, and letters to opt out of specific types of data-sharing.”

“The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy is a powerhouse resource for parents, educators and school districts,” said Laura Bowman, President of the PAA-Roanoke Valley chapter of the public education advocacy group Parents Across America. “By providing easily understood explanations of laws and legal rights, best practices, questions to ask, and ways to advocate for their children, the Toolkit empowers parents with the information they need to ensure their child’s sensitive information is safeguarded.”

Phyllis Bush, Co-founder of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, and a Board member of the Network for Public Education, said “Technology has made information readily available with a click, but what do our children pay in the loss of privacy? Reading through the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, and following the typical journey of a child through a data-mined school experience, is a stark reminder of the perils that lie before our children. The Toolkit will give parents the tools to pushback against the assault on our children’s privacy.”

The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy can be downloaded at www.studentprivacymatters.org/toolkit. PCSP and CCFC will co-sponsor a webinar on May 23, 2017, to help parents effectively use the toolkit’s resources.

The Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy was made possible by a grant from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

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Parent Coalition for Student Privacy member Cheri Kiesecker speaks at Screen Time Colorado event tonight 4/20/17!

Does your child’s school have a one-to-one (1:1) program where each child is provide a laptop, tablet or netbook, or does it use a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program? Does your child use technology at home to complete homework assignments? If so, this  event is especially for you!

From Colorado Screen Time’s website:

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, today’s children are spending an average of SEVEN hours per day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, cell or “smart” phones and other electronic devices.  Screen use and the electromagnetic radiation emitted from these devices has been associated with myriad health risks including myopia, retinal damage, sleeplessness, addiction and behavioral issues to name a few. The use of screens in schools also brings with it information sharing and privacy issues associated with online curricula, online assessments, and student data collection. 

Come listen to experts in child psychiatry, radio frequency radiation, mental health, and data privacy (including our own Cheri Kiesecker!) discuss these issues.

WHEN: Thu, April 20, 2017; 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM MDT

WHERE: Denver Field House; 1600 Federal Boulevard, Denver, CO 80204

To register, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/screen-time-in-schools-why-parents-should-care-tickets-33053330401

For more information, visit: https://www.screentimecolorado.com/

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Opposes Federal Data Matching Program

The U.S. Department of Education proposes to extend the program in which it matches personal data of resident alien students with data from the Department of Homeland Security  and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, for the purpose of establishing their eligibility for financial aid.

We oppose this proposal, as explained below, given the sensitivity of the personal  information involved, and the fact that the US Education Department has been repeatedly shown to have faulty data security protections.  Most recently the IRS pulled the FAFSA Data Retrieval Tool off the US Education Department website after discovering that the personal data of as many as 100,000 taxpayers may have been breached.  Until the Department’s data security protections can be significantly strengthened, this data exchange should not occur.

See the notice here: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=ED-2017-FSA-0034  We urge others to join us in opposing the extension of this program by posting your comments here. The new deadline to submit comments has been extended to May 19, 2017. Thank you!

Chicago student illegally pressured to provide personal information to College Board

Today is PSAT/SAT day at many high schools throughout the nation. Here is a list of the states that require these exams be given to all high school juniors, this week and next.  There are also many schools and districts that are voluntarily giving these exams today, including those in NYC and elsewhere in NY state.

You can see that Illinois is on the list; and yesterday, students in Chicago were asked to fill the College Board Student data questionnaire one day ahead of time.

This questionnaire urges students to provide sensitive personal information concerning their race, ethnicity, religion, social security number, GPA, citizenship, high school course work and interests, the family’s education, income and/or military background, as well as various student “self-ratings,” all of which College Board sells or “licenses” to participating “partners” at 42 cents per name. Answering the questions on this questionnaire is purely voluntary, though this has not been made sufficiently clear to teachers or students.

Below is the account from a parent at one of Chicago’s largest high schools, Lane Tech, relating the pressure put on her son to fill out the Questionnaire, from an email sent to Cassie Creswell of Chicago’s More than a Score and a member of our Coalition.

Not only is it unethical to place such pressure on students; it is probably illegal as well.  College Board is infamous for its confusing instructions  to teachers, proctors and students about which questions must be filled out on the test sheets and the separate Questionnaire and on the PSAT test sheets, as I explained here.

As Cassie pointed out, the fact that this parent was not sent any sort of consent form ahead of time would also seem to violate Chicago Public School policy because parents are supposed to be given the opportunity to review the survey/assessment prior to being administered to their children if the students are under 18, and  asked for their consent.

Please contact us at info@studentprivacymatters.org if you have any information about similar occurrences at your child’s school.

Here is the email to Cassie from the parent:

Thank you for contacting me! I was very surprised at the questions he told me were being asked of him and the proctor’s response.

We were not given any sort of consent forms from Lane or any notification on this type of questionnaire.

My son texted me and told me the questions were asking parent status, household income, documentation(citizen), religion, race.

According to my son, when he told the proctor he was uncomfortable answering these questions, she said he had to fill them out and wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom unless they were filled out. He didn’t fill them out and didn’t go to the bathroom either. I asked if others had any issues with it and he said he really didn’t know.

Again, this was at Lane Tech high school in Chicago and he is a junior and the SAT is a mandatory test in his high school.

More on the College Board’s evasions and lies about collecting and selling your child’s personal data

College Board officials belatedly responded to Cheri Kiesecker’s post describing their practice of collecting and selling personal student data without parental consent –and and their response is included at the end of her article in yesterday’s  Washington Post Answer Sheet.

Interestingly,  they did not deny that they sell students’ personal data – or in their words, “license” the data for a fee to institutions, for-profit corporations and the military.

You can see how they admit this on their website — at the cost of 42 cents per name.  Selling this data is a violation of law in many states including NY and Colorado, and also a violation of the Student Privacy Pledge, which the College Board has signed.

And despite their claims to the Washington Post that “When students take the SAT and PSAT, the proctor instructions make clear that some items on the questionnaire are optional, and they may skip if they prefer not to answer,” nothing could be further from the truth.

First, there is nothing on the student answer sheet to let students know which questions they do not have to answer.

And if you read   the script for  proctors, as specified in the 2017 PSAT supervisors manual,  on pp. 10-12, you can see how evasive, confusing and ambiguous are the instructions that are supposed to be read aloud to students.

After asking students to fill out  their (obligatory) names and addresses, this is what the proctor is then supposed to say :

There is nothing in this script indicating that providing information about high school course work is purely voluntary and may be shared with third parties for a fee.

Then come some really dicey questions, prefaced this way:

Though this part of the script does indicate that participating in the School Search program is voluntary, it does not mention which personal information aside from test scores or telephone numbers will NOT be shared with third parties, and no indication that this data will be sold to various institutions and corporations and even the military at 42 cents per name.

Then, as a separate question come the doozies— with  nothing in the script to suggest that answering these questions are voluntary.  Worse yet, students have already been asked to check off the box as to whether they want to participate in the Student Search, without having yet seen the information that may be shared.

There is one mention above that students “may leave”  questions blank related to their racial and ethnic backgrounds – but this is not part of the script that proctors are asked to read aloud.

Now come other even more personal questions, with no hint at all either in the read-aloud script or otherwise that answering these questions are optional:

Above are questions about the students’ religion, potential major and grade point average, the education level of their parents or guardians, and if their parents have a military background.   The latter information is probably very valuable to the Department of Defense, which according to the NYCLU, purchases this information from the College Board for military recruiting purposes.

Not only is nothing mentioned about the voluntary nature of these questions, but the instructions tell the proctor to encourage students to fill in the question asking their potential college major, and help them identify the “code” for their religion if they have trouble seeing it.

To make things even more confusing, the College Board then mixes in questions asking  the student’s birth date and gender — which are required to be filled out, with no indication of any change in the nature of these questions.

Then they ask for the student ID number or social security number, even though the latter is considered very sensitive.

So you can see that this script for proctors is written in the most ambiguous way possible, with voluntary questions mixed in with required ones, and no clear indication which is which or that much of this personal data will be shared with third parties for a fee.

I have yet to see the script or the answer sheet for the SAT — as opposed to the PSAT.  If anyone has a copy please send it to me at leonie@classsizematters.org

I have heard that the questions include the now politically sensitive question about their citizenship, which may be the reason that in NYC,  principals have been told not to include the Student Data Questionnaires as part of their administration of the SAT or PSAT exams — and to skip #11 on the answer sheet, which relates to religion, but not any of the other questions.  Indeed, the online Student Search questionnaire has questions about citizenship and more.  But there may be other personal questions on the answer sheet and in the proctor’s instructions so beware.

If your child has already filled out these questions, either online or in a previous administration of the exams, you can still opt out of further disclosures.  According to the College Board,

“If at any time you change your mind and want to stop participating, please contact us via email or at (866) 825-8051. Please note that any eligible participating organizations that have already received your name and other data may continue to send you information, but your information will not be included going forward from the time you elect to opt out.”