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New York Posts 'Parents' Bill of Rights' to Safeguard Student Data

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UPDATED

New York education officials published a "parents' bill of rights" outlining the use of student data and how that information will be secured on the state education department's website.

But the preliminary document, which was posted online July 29 as required by state law, puts much of the onus to protect student data on local school districts. According to a Westchester County, N.Y., Journal News story, all districts must post the parents' bill of rights on their websites and include the document in contracts with vendors that receive student data.

State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn told the Journal News that the bill of rights was written based on federal guidelines and the language of the new state law passed in December. The state's yet-to-be appointed chief privacy officer will develop a final version of the document, Dunn said in the interview. The new state law also requires the education commissioner to set a period for parents and others to submit suggestions to a chief privacy officer for possible inclusion in the bill of rights.

Statewide backlash, much of it led by parents, against state education department officials' intentions to provide identifiable student data with the nonprofit inBloom, led lawmakers to mandate the creation of bill of rights to protect student data. That law forced the state to end the inBloom project, which shut down in April.

According to Journal News story, Leonie Haimson, the executive director of New York City-based non-profit Class Size Matters and a leading critic of the educational data-management group, described the document as "shoddy," because it failed to clearly explain parents' rights to review contracts with vendors. Haimson is also part of a new coalition of parent groups—the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy—which last month called for congressional hearings into concerns about inappropriate uses of sensitive student educational information.

UPDATE: (Aug. 12, 2004) In an email to Education Week, Haimson said she has identified at least "two errors" in the current version of the parents' bill of rights. She said the document omits the fact that federal and state law allows parents to check the accuracy of the data the state holds for their children. She also says it "skirts the responsibility of the state to respond to parent queries," because the document notes that "schools and school districts are in the best position to make corrections to students' education records."

In addition, Haimson said state law prescribes new strict security provisions for vendors, however the bill of rights states that those standards will be determined by the commissioner of education and the state's chief privacy officer at a later date. 

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