Student Data to be Disclosed in Lawsuit

In January, the California Department of Education (CDE) was instructed by a California district court to provide student databases to plaintiffs in the proceedings of a lawsuit. The court order provoked outrage and protest from parents, as concerns arose over the possible disclosure of student information including social security number and home address.

“There’s personal information in there that parents have the right not to have exposed,” MVLA Board President Phil Faillace said. “It’s not to be made public unless they want it to be made public. We all know there easier ways to get this information, so why doesn’t [the court] just use those easier ways?”

The databases were requested as part of a lawsuit by the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association and the California Concerned Parents Association that began in 2011. The organizations, which represent parents of children with disabilities, allege that the CDE mistreated children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Although the court holds no obligation to uphold any objection, parents can fill out court provided objection forms and mail them to the U.S. District Court by April 1 to oppose the release of a specific child’s personal information.

On March 1, the court judge revised her initial court order due to the number of objection forms filed by parents. The main database, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), will now remain with the CDE, who will appoint database experts to assist plaintiffs in seeking evidence.

“As a result of the outpouring of objections, [the judge] has amended the order so that the state does not have to turn over its main database,” Faillace said. “Instead the plaintiffs will have to give [the CDE] the questions that they want answered, and then the database will be used to answer the questions. It will not change hands.”

A number of smaller databases are not affected by the revised court ruling and will still be provided to the plaintiffs. The extent of information on the smaller databases remains unknown, but Faillace cautions that private records may still released.

“I think the CALPADS database is completely safe now, and I would feel confident letting them use that,” Faillace said. “But the state has many databases, and [the judge’s] order does not affect any of those databases. I don’t know and I don’t think anyone knows how much personal information is on there, but it’s safe to assume there is some.”

According to Superintendent Jeff Harding, objections filed by parents or guardians will not remove their child from databases. Instead, they stand as political protests to the disclosure.

“It’s unlikely that when you mail this in, a person will open the envelope and take your child’s name out of the database,” Harding said. “It is about making a statement to a judge about politically, how much upset there is in the parent community about this decision.”

The district advises parents to acquaint themselves with the court case and the information that could be disclosed, and then file an objection by April 1 if they wish to. Immediately after the initial court ruling, Harding sent a letter to students and parents informing them of the ruling and directions to allow parents to file objections, and updated the letter posted on the MVLA website with the revised ruling.

“[Parents] first of all should acquaint themselves with the case, and see if they want to object or not object,” Harding said. “Then they should file an objection if they want to object. Although I don’t think it’s going to change the impact to a particular child, there’s no downside to objecting.”

Objections already filed have catalyzed the revised ruling, and Faillace says that the large number of objections reveals a misalignment between the court and public’s perception of the government’s ability to keep private information unexposed.

“I don’t think [the court] quite has an appreciation for the level of mistrust that there is with respect to being able to keep data secret,” Faillace said. “The first thing people think is, ‘Oh sure, the NSA couldn’t keep Snowden from releasing its database. The Department of Defense couldn’t keep [Manning] from releasing its database. Sure, the judge in this case will have no trouble.’”


Objection form to disclosure of student records