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Judge Withdraws Order to Release Calif. Student Records for Special Education Suit

By Sarah Tully and Christina A. Samuels

A federal judge has reversed an order that would have allowed the release of 10 million California student records to attorneys tied to a special-education lawsuit, making the decision after parent protests. No data was transferred. 

Instead, the student files will remain under the control of the California Department of Education, which will be required to run searches of the database to meet the needs of the plaintiffs. The case Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association vs. California Department of Education dates back to 2012, and claims that the state is not meeting its federal obligations to serve students with disabilities. 

Judge Kimberly Mueller of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California had originally ruled that a copy of the student data could be made available to the plaintiffs in order to meet their lawful needs for discovery in the case. The state database includes names, addresses, disciplinary records and in some cases even Social Security numbers.

Parents were allowed to submit forms requesting that their children's data be withheld. In reversing her original decision, Mueller said that "given the number of objections received, and the objections that will continue to be received, the court has not and cannot realistically review the objections individually. The court construes the objections in bulk as objecting strongly to public disclosure of personal identifying information contained in the [California Department of Education's] educational records."

A representative from one of the plaintiffs in the case said she supported the judge's revised stance. 

Whatever approach California Concerned Parents can use to "get access to current, valid and accurate data is great," Christine English, vice president of the organization, told the San Jose Mercury News

On Feb. 15, California Concerned Parents posted a message on its website that it had tried unsuccessfully to mediate with the California Department of Education to release the records with fake names to protect student privacy. But Bill Ainsworth, the California education department's spokesman, said the state's attorneys have offered to provide redacted information from a particular state database. Ainsworth said that offer was rejected because the plaintiffs were looking for data in another set of records that also includes personal information, Ainsworth said.


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