too much information

Progress on student data bill stirs concern from school officials

A legislative effort to give parents greater control over how schools share data about their children got renewed energy this week after sitting idle in the Assembly for months.

The progress has alarmed officials at the State Education Department, who assumed a bill to restrict data-sharing was dead. It has also raised concern among education groups whose members would be in charge of administrating the law.

Education Chair Catherine Nolan breathed new life into the issue last week when she nixed an old bill that had languished in the committee since March, despite picking up support from more than 60 lawmakers. She introduced her own, less extreme version, which sailed unanimously through the committee on Wednesday. With less than a week left in the legislative session, the bill’s chances of becoming law this year are slim, but the momentum means that it could be an issue next year.

Both versions aim to empower parents to decide how their child’s data should be shared with third-party vendors working with their school. The original bill would have required parental consent for student data to be shared, while Nolan’s bill would assume that data can be shared unless parents opt out of making their child’s information available to vendors.

The bills respond to growing concerns that a new database being used by the state, called inBloom, won’t adequately protect personally identifiable student information from being made public. The Gates Foundation developed the database to reduce the burden of data management on school districts and states. But districts can also decide to let private companies that it contracts have access to the database to help them develop their own education software, an arrangement that parents in New York and elsewhere have questioned.

“We think [the bill is] a reasonable compromise,” Nolan said. “We want to give parents options, but we also have to give school districts flexibility.”

But state and district education officials said the bill would do the opposite. They said the bill would cripple schools’ ability to function because data collected for many core services are managed by outside vendors.

“Everything from course scheduling to transportation to school lunches to high school transcripts for college applications would be impacted,” said State Education Commissioner John King. “The proposed bill would render virtually impossible — or extraordinarily more expensive — much of the day-to-day data management work of schools.”

Nolan’s bill would require that parents have access to an itemized list of services outsourced to private vendors at their school so they can choose which vendors can access their students’ data.

State officials said vendors could balk at working with districts in the future if they are required to build data management systems that must account for students whose parents have opted them out of certain data points.

Superintendents and the New York State School Boards Association are also opposed to the legislation.

“Districts have been providing data to third-party vendors for years without controversy,” said Bob Lowry, a spokesman for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Lowry said he worried that schools with students who opted out of sharing data for basic services required by law, such as busing and special education, would need to figure out how to deliver those services in-house, which he said could be a steep challenge.

“You might not be able to ensure that they get these special services,” Lowry said.

The city and state teachers unions did not respond to requests for comment.

Nolan said the law would not cause the sort of administrative headaches that critics are predicting. She said parents deserve the right to know about and control what kinds of student data vendors use.

“We really care about student privacy,” Nolan said. “We think an opt-out is a reasonable thing that can be administered by state ed and school superintendents.”

Chances that the bill gets passed into law before the legislative session ends next week are extremely slim, since there no version of the bill in the Senate.

It’s unclear how the bill will proceed in the Assembly, despite its initial support. Speaker Sheldon Silver has previously indicated that he would not support legislative efforts to restrict data collection by third-party vendors.

A spokesman for Silver did not respond to requests for comment.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.