Category Archives: Blog

Sign up for our free Jan. 20 webinar on how educators can better protect their students’ privacy — and their own

A few weeks ago, it was reported that the personal information of 500,000 San Diego students, former students and school staff was exposed in a massive breach. At about the same time, education institutions and organizations were rated as the worst sector for cybersecurity in a 2018 report.

We invite you to join us for a short webinar on Jan. 20, with important tips on how teachers and district/school staff members can better protect their students’ privacy of and their own.

We will be offering guidance along with Marla Kilfoyle of the Badass Teachers Association from our  Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy, released this fall. Educators will receive a certificate of participation. Don’t miss out! Space is limited!

When? Sunday, January 20 from 6-7 PM EST (3-4 PST). We’re saving lots of time for questions!

How? Sign up here – it’s free!

We hope to see you on the 20th.

Leonie Haimson  and Rachael Stickland
Co-Chairs, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

Delays in responding to FERPA complaints lead to NYC children robbed of their privacy

If you’d like to add your voice and urge the mayor and Chancellor to stop robbing children of their privacy and stop encouraging charter schools to recruit more students and thereby defund public schools, send a letter by clicking here.

Last week, in a mindboggling audit, the Inspector General of the US Department of Education revealed that the US Department of Education had utterly failed to respond in a timely fashion to  complaints filed by parents about the violation of their children’s privacy by their schools or districts.

The Privacy Office is not meeting its statutory obligation to appropriately enforce FERPA and resolve FERPA complaints,” the Inspector General concluded. “Complainants’ privacy rights are also not appropriately protected as FERPA intends.

In some cases, as the audit reveals, it took up to six years for the Family Policy Compliance Office  (FPCO) of the US Dept of Education to respond to FERPA complaints.  Because the office hasn’t kept a systematic record of when complaints were filed and then resolved, it was difficult for the auditor to even know what the average time before investigations were launched, close or responses sent.   As of Sept. 2017, there were 285 open investigations.

As I was quoted in Edweek:  “Parents have these very serious complaints about their kids’ privacy having been violated, and they go through the trouble of filing complaints, but they just sit for years without any kind of substantive response.

To make things worse, when FPCO finally decides that the law has been broken, as they did with Agora charter school in Nov. 2017 , five years after the original complaint, they  have never imposed any fines or withheld any funding. Years of delay and no punishment means yet more reasons for schools and districts to drag their feet and continue to violate the law.

Here in NYC,  children have suffered as a result of these inordinate delays. In November  2017, Johanna Garcia filed a FERPA complaint about the practice of NYC DOE making her family’s personal information and that of other families available to charter schools for the purpose of letting them mail marketing materials and recruit more students.  Four Council Members wrote a letter in support of Johanna’s complaint to the Mayor and Chancellor Carranza, urging them to halt this practice.

Johanna finally received a written response from the US DOE on September 25,  2018,  nearly one year later, saying they had finally launched an investigation.  Dale King of FPCO forwarded her a letter that he had sent DOE, which asked several  piercing questions about their privacy practices and their rationale for allowing charter schools to access student personal information, while stating that there was a deadline of four weeks in which they would have to respond.

Yet DOE further delayed, and apparently sent their response a full month after the deadline, on or around November 26.  Meanwhile, as I feared, charter schools have already begun to send out  mailings, promoting their schools and urging parents to apply for next year.

On Twitter this morning, Naomi Pena, President of the Community Education Council in District 1, posted photos of the glossy brochures she just received in the mail from Success Academy charters, run by Eva Moskowitz, and the Hebrew Public (sic) Charter Schools, founded by Sara Berman, the daughter of billionaire Michael Steinhardt.


Naomi’s last tweet refers to the fact that the DOE makes elected Community Education Councils pay the Vanguard mailing house to send parents information about what’s happening in their districts — even though the DOE could provide parent emails for free.  DOE could do this either under the directory information exception to FERPA, or the school officials exception.  In the first case, DOE would have to allow parental opt out, in the second case, CECs would have to sign a written agreement that they would only use this contact information to increase parental involvement and promise not to redisclose the data to other entities.

CECs are eligible to be defined as school officials under FERPA as by  encouraging parental engagement, they are truly providing a service to DOE – unlike charter schools, which are providing no services to DOE, making them ineligible to be defined as school officials under the law.  CECs receive very little money from DOE and simply don’t have the budget to pay the thousands of dollars to Vanguard that wealthy charter school chains like Success and the Hebrew charter schools can afford.

If you’d like to add your voice and urge the mayor and Chancellor to stop robbing children of their privacy and stop encouraging charter schools to recruit more students and thereby defund public schools, send a letter by clicking here.

An even worse fate has been suffered by Fatima Geidi and her son because of the failure of the US Department of Education to carry out its responsibilities under the law.  On October 30, 2015,  more than three years ago, Fatima filed a FERPA complaint against Success Academy after she appeared  on the PBS News Hour to discuss the abusive treatment that her son had experienced at a Success charter school.  Eva Moskowitz took revenge against her, by posting her son’s disciplinary file online, full of false charges, and sending it to reporters throughout the nation.

After filing a complaint against this egregious violation of her son’s privacy, Fatima received no response from the US Department of Education until more than two years later, when she received a letter which said that they had initiated an investigation and had asked Success for an explanation.  On February 16, 2018, they emailed her again to say that they had now received a response from Success and in a few weeks would let her know the results.

By that time, however, Eva Moskowitz had taken the initial posting of the child’s supposed disciplinary offenses down.  But instead, she had since published the same chronicle of trumped-up allegations against him in a book published by Harper Collins on September 12, 2017. Fatima had informed the US Dept of Education of this fact as soon as she discovered it by filing yet another FERPA complaint on December 20, 2017, in which she cited her earlier complaint, and wrote that because of the delay the harm to her child ‘s privacy had been seriously aggravated.

Fatima has heard nothing more from the US Department of Education about either her initial or more recent FERPA complaint since February 2018.  Eva Moskowitz’  book is still available online and in bookstores.  Fatima is now in the process of changing her son’s name so that in the future, his opportunities will not be wrecked by the false allegations made against him, contained in the pages of this horrific book.

These are just two stories showing the immense price that NYC parents and their children have been forced to pay for the utter failure of the US Department of Education to carry out its responsibilities under the law.  The personal information of children has been handed off by DOE like candy to charter schools to help them recruit more students, where these children can be further abused and their privacy even more seriously violated.

If you’d like to add your voice and urge the mayor and Chancellor to stop robbing children of their privacy and stop encouraging charter schools to recruit more students and thereby defund public schools, send a letter by clicking here.

Brooklyn students fight against the Summit online platform and the Zuckerberg-Gates corporate machine

Update: this David vs. Goliath story with national implications was reported also on Fast Company, Business Insider,  EdSurge, and NY Magazine. The Washington Post also published the letter the students subsequently sent to Mark Zuckerberg.

On November 5, about 100 students at the Secondary School of Journalism in Brooklyn walked out of their schools to protest the Summit online program.  This digital instruction program, funded by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Bill Gates, forces students to spend hours staring at computers, left at sea with little human interaction or help from their teachers, all in the name of “personalized learning.”

As one of the students, Mitchel Storman, said to Sue Edelman who reported on the protest in the NY Post, “I have seen lots of students playing games instead of working….Students can easily cheat on quizzes since they can just copy and paste the question into Google.”

Senior Akila Robinson said she couldn’t even log onto Summit for nearly two months, while other classmates can’t or won’t use it. “The whole day, all we do is sit there.”  A teacher said, “It’s a lot of reading on the computer, and that’s not good for the eyes. Kids complain. Some kids refuse to do it.”

The online program, which originated in the Summit chain of charter schools in California, and was further developed and expanded with millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, Facebook and now the Chan Zuckerberg LLC, has now been inserted in more than 300 or so public schools, collecting a huge amount of personal data from thousands of students without their knowledge or consent or that of their parents.

I have been writing and questioning Summit for the past two years, and last year, met with Diane Tavenner, asked her all sorts of questions she never responded to, and toured her flagship charter school in Redwood City.  My description of this visit is here.

Since then, parents in 15 states have reached out to me in distress about the negative impact of this program on their children. Many report that their children, who had previously done well in school,  now say that they aren’t learning, that they feel constantly stressed, are beginning to hate school and want to drop out. Some parents have told me that they are now homeschooling their kids or have decided to sell their homes and move out of the district.

Recently it was disclosed that next year, the Summit program would spin off to a  separate nonprofit corporation,  run by a board led by Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg’s wife and the CZI Chief Financial Officer.  Diane Tavenner told reporters  the new corporation “doesn’t plan to expand the program, but rather, the new nonprofit will focus on meeting current demand.”  Yet a few days ago on Twitter, I saw that Summit is still entreating schools to apply .

Below is a fact sheet I have shared with parents and students at Summit schools nationwide, along with questions they can ask their schools and districts about the instructional program, its data collection and privacy protections (or lack thereof).  The fact sheet is also available as a pdf you can download here.

As it points out in more detail, parents have the right to demand that their children’s data be deleted from the online platform, according to Summit itself, and to opt out of their children’s directory information (name, email, student ID number etc.) provided to Summit from now on.  Here is a sample letter you can send to your child’s principal:

Dear Principal [name],

I hereby demand that all the data of my child [name] in the [grade] be immediately deleted from the Summit online system, as is my right according to the Summit Privacy Center. I also want to make it clear that from now on, I opt out of  [his or her] directory information provided to Summit, including name, address, student ID number, email address, etc.  This is my right according to the Summit Data Privacy Addendum.  Please respond as soon as possible to let me know that you have understood and complied with my request.

Name, address, email

Bravo to the courageous students at Secondary School of Journalism, who are fighting  for their own right to privacy and a quality education, vs Zuckerberg,  Gates and the other ed tech oligarchs who are attempting to control their classrooms and their personal data.  As the recent NY Times series pointed out, Silicon Valley corporate leaders and engineers want one kind of screen-free education for their own kids, while imposing  mechanized schooling on everyone else.

Our Educator Privacy Toolkit presentation at the NPE conference

Melissa Tomlinson and Marla Kilfoyle of the Badass Teachers Association along with Rachael Stickland and Leonie Haimson presented the new  Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy at the Network for Public Education Conference in Indianapolis last Saturday, October 20, 2018. Check it out below.

Since the Toolkit was released on Thursday Oct. 18, it has been downloaded more than 2000 times! You can download the entire toolkit yourself at   

Outsourcing the Classroom to Ed Tech & Machine-learning: Why Parents & Teachers Should Resist

Check out the presentation that we gave at the Network for Public Education Conference in Indianapolis on Oct. 30.

My powerpoint is here. Presenting with me were Audrey Watters, pre-eminent critic of ed tech who blogs at Hack Education and retired English teacher Peter Greene, whose indispensable commentary on all things education can be found on his blog Curmudgucation and now at Forbes.

Audrey’s presentation is also written up on her blog here.  A livestream of the event is available on  our Student Privacy Facebook page and below; the real stuff starts at about eleven minutes in.