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Court to release 10 million students’ private information

Following a lengthy legal battle between the California Department of Education and an advocacy group, the Concerned Parent Association, Judge Kimberly Mueller ordered that the Department of Education release private information on over 10 million current and former public school students for statistical analysis.

In 2011, the California Concerned Parents Association and the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association (MHCP) filed a suit against the Department of Education. MHCP, a non-profit group, accused the state of not allocating federally required funding to students with disabilities. The 5-year dispute made headway when U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller approved MHCP’s request for statewide student data.

The data to be released includes  Social Security numbers, addresses, mental assessments and physical assessments of all public school students who have been enrolled since Jan. 1, 2008. Data will be released to the MHCP’s legal team on April 1, 60 days after the court order. Former students and parents or guardians have until April 1 to complete a form, found on the Department of Education website, to have their information removed from what will ultimately be sent to MHCP.

In releasing the information, Mueller placed a protective order on the data. No parties outside the MHCP, its attorneys and the statistical team will have access to the data. The information itself will be available to fewer than 10 individuals, those of which are responsible for performing statistical analyses. Once the analyses are performed, MHCP representatives are required to return or destroy any data used, to ensure privacy.

MHCP asserts that they are not searching for individual student data, but rather aiming to establish generalizations about the amount of resources allocated to special needs students.

“We feel that the way [the California Department of Education] has used Social Security numbers and made them available to thousands of administrators and staff across the state that have little or no training in computer security is inappropriate,” MHCP said in a statement on their website. “We don’t want social security numbers, but CDE has embedded them in records that show CDE does not follow federal law.”

The Department of Education challenges allegations of any wrongdoing against students with disabilities. They have circulated information regarding the opt-out program to schools.

“We have fought vigorously to protect students’ privacy rights and will continue that fight,” State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a press release.

While parents and students may disagree about the importance of releasing the private information, most agree about the need to inform students about the ability to opt out.

“They should have some type of public service announcement about this because the public shouldn’t be blindsided by a court decision that will release a lot of private information like this,” senior Nicole Chen said. “In schools, like in advisory or something, teachers should let students know about this so they can make an educated decision.”

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