HB 1294 Falls Short of Full Student Data Protection

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Colorado parents are trying to regain some control. But House Bill 1294, a proposal promoted as a way to protect student privacy, falls short of doing the job.

Rep. Carole Murray’s HB 1294, which has passed its first committee hearing, was created to address a very real problem that touches close to home. Many moms and dads are only starting to become aware of it.

When parents drop their children off at school, they are no longer sending them to learn the three R’s, but rather to data collection centers where they will unknowingly provide more than 400 points of personal data to the state and to researchers.

Colorado student data is tracked from preschool through grade 12 and beyond, creating a single “Golden Record” on each child. This data collection may not seem threatening as parents are used to offering personal information to schools.

But this data goes beyond what responsible parents already volunteer. Now, classrooms may be videotaped for “research purposes,” with video data retained by third parties.

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has partnered with Social Services, the Department of Corrections, and state higher education officials. They collect hundreds of personal and predictive data points, such as children’s learning disabilities, medication, attention span, socio-economic background, personality and behavior.

The process bypasses federal HIPPA regulations. Parents are no longer asked to provide this personal and identifiable information. Instead, because of recent changes to privacy laws, it is collected and shared without parental consent and often without parental knowledge.

In 2008 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education made regulatory changes to The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), relaxing protections so that data can be shared across state and federal government agencies. The changes also allow data to be shared with outside vendors who may then redistribute and sell it.

Intended to protect student data, HB 1294 however does startlingly little to truly address the threat. The bill still allows the state agency to share personally identifiable information with vendors. The bill only suggests security measures at the state level while offering nothing to protect children’s data at the local district level. (A recent Fordham Institute study has highlighted districts’ serious deficiencies in privacy protection).

Additionally, the bill does nothing to restore the loss of parental rights. At the House Education Committee’s hearing on HB 1294, several parents testified and asked for changes to ban the sale of children’s data and also for a parental opt-out amendment.

The committee unanimously agreed to add an amendment banning the sale and redistribution of children’s data. However, the committee voted to reject an opt-out provision. Even if the bill passes, parents still will not be able to opt children out of the data-collection mechanism.

Organizations such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the ACLU have raised concerns, and even filed lawsuits, over the release of student records for non-academic purposes and the lack of parental consent requirements.

Citing the state constitution, the State Board of Education claims its hands are tied when it comes to protecting data at the district level. They say Colorado’s status as a local control state means that CDE cannot enforce mandates. The state agency can only provide procedural suggestions to school districts regarding storing and sharing student data.

Both CDE and the House Education Committee have stated that a parental opt-out lies beyond the scope of HB 1294.

Only new legislation could effectively address parental rights and strengthen data security at the district level. That’s the kind of local control Colorado education needs.

Aimie Randall is intent on preserving the integrity and quality of education for her own children and all of the country.  She lives in Loveland, Colorado.

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