Bill clarifies student info safety standards

A new student information bill has local schools safeguarding personal information a lot more closely than ever before.

In 2014, Acts 677 and 837 were passed by the state legislature. Those acts pertained to the keeping and distribution of the PII, or personally identifiable information, of students. Act 677 tightened the restriction of PII sharing and demanded more transparency from the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) regarding existing and future agreements with contractors regarding the sharing of information.

Act 837, meanwhile, more clearly and extensively defined what constituted student PII, stating the penalties for willfully disobeying the law regarding it, mandating that the DOE create a system of student identification numbers, and setting up an effective date of June 1, 2015, for school districts to comply with the law.

House Bill 718, however, fixes some problems within Act 837 and pushes that deadline back to August 1.

In the past, schools sent home permission slips that would allow students' names and limited other data to be published (honor roll releases, yearbooks, newspaper and television publication, etc.). If students did not return a form, the school would work under the assumption of passive acceptance. However, HB718 reverses that notion, meaning that a form that is not returned is a sign of passive decline.

According to Woody Woodruff, the in-house attorney for the Vermilion Parish School Board, past forms were treated more as an opt-out, whereas under the new law they will be treated as opt-in.

“Everything is completely transparent,” Woodruff said about the laws. “I understand parents' concern. This combined with the concerns about Common Core, PARCC testing, and data transfer, it created a kind of perfect storm and everything was such that it created a lot of unease.”

According to the law, a school cannot "provide personally identifiable information regarding a particular student to any person or public or private entity," unless they have been authorized "in writing by the parent or legal guardian of the student, or by a student who has reached the age of legal majority."

The data can also be shared with state-authorized personnel, including the legislative auditor.

"On June 1, new data sharing restrictions go into place, which require LEAs (local education authorities) to have a contract or data sharing agreement with private vendors that deliver services under state contracts," the Department of Education said in a notice to districts.

The notice also provided a list of data sharing agreements districts can use, but added that the list "is not exhaustive of all data sharing agreements that the Department will eventually make available to LEAs but should address any data sharing that might be occurring on June 1, 2015."

The data sharing being referred to includes EAGLE testing, End of Course exams, and other identification and data reporting measure, according to the DOE.

There are still some questions that need to be answered, however. According to Woodruff, the military is allowed by federal law to collect transcript information on students, but it is not addressed in the state law. “Constitutionally speaking, federal law trumps state law,” he explained, “but no one has addressed it yet.”

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