Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

February 18, 2015

Some Wisconsin School Districts Prepared to Release Personal Student Info to Voucher Industry

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:21 am

Oshkosh schools set deadline to OK student info release
Nathaniel Shuda, Oshkosh Northwestern Media February 17, 2015
Story Highlights
• School Choice Wisconsin is requesting students’ personal information known as directory data.
• Oshkosh school board policy defines the data as name, grade level and school attended.
• Addresses and telephone numbers of elementary students also are included in the definition.
• Parents have until the end of Monday to decide whether to allow the district to release the data.

Oshkosh Area School District parents have until Monday to decide whether they want their children’s personal information released to a statewide school voucher group.

District leaders notified parents Monday about an open records request from School Choice Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice programs. Oshkosh is one of about 30 districts statewide to receive such a request.

The group is seeking a portion of the district’s school “directory data” for each student, including name, address, telephone number, grade level and the school each student most recently attended.

The data is collected and used for a variety of purposes, but the scope of the group’s request is uncommon, Superintendent Stan Mack II said.

“It’s so unusual; we don’t get blanket requests like this,” Mack said.

School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender said the group likely would pass the information it requested to private and parochial schools that are part of the state’s voucher program.

“We want parents to be aware of all the options they have,” said Bender, noting some private schools have had difficulty receiving information from school districts. “Parents have a right to know what options they have for their kids. Parents can’t be kept in the dark.”

School board policy outlines different definitions of the term “directory data,” depending on grade level, with name, grade level and school attended included in the definition for all students, as well as address and phone number of elementary school students only, Mack said. Parents will have until the end of the day Monday to confirm or change the decision they made at the beginning of the school year on whether to allow the district to share their children’s information.

“If we don’t hear back from them, we will release their information,” Mack said.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said he has not heard of anyone making such a request before.

“Obviously, this strikes a nerve because the group that’s making the request is controversial,” Lueders said.

State statutes governing student records — not the state’s open records law — allow districts to collect and disclose directory data with the permission of a parent or guardian. Many districts use the statutes to allow for the release of information commonly included on sports team rosters, such as the height and weight of student athletes, their involvement in sports or other activities and any degrees or awards the student received, Lueders said.

“When you put together a wrestling program, you want to say a particular wrestler is 145 pounds; you want to be able to say for your basketball team that your star center is 6 foot 3 (inches),” he said. “These are all things that the law allows the school district to obtain (and release with parental consent).”

He cautioned against restricting some of the more basic data, such as name and school, saying it would be difficult to justify keeping that information confidential in keeping with the spirit of the law.
Nathaniel Shuda: (920) 426-6632 or nshuda@thenorthwestern.com; on Twitter @onwnshuda. Patti Zarling of Press-Gazette Media in Green Bay contributed to this report.

Background Story

Voucher group requests student info from public schools

Patti Zarling, Press-Gazette Media February 13, 2015
A group that supports private school vouchers is asking for student information from a number of Wisconsin school districts — including Green Bay, De Pere and West De Pere — apparently for recruitment purposes.

School Choice Wisconsin, which is lobbying for expansion of Wisconsin’s voucher program, has asked about 30 public school districts for names, addresses and other student information through the state’s Open Records law.

The request jolted district officials and Democratic lawmakers who are opposed to vouchers. They said they’re worried about infringement on students’ privacy.

“As a parent and lawmaker, I’m outraged by this request for personal student information,” said Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay.

Genrich and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, announced Friday they’re consulting with staff attorneys to draft a bill that would block requests such as this one. They said they hope for bipartisan support for a measure to keep student information “out of the hands of those who might seek to harm children.”

School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender said the group likely would pass the information it requested to private and parochial schools that are part of the state’s voucher program. Efforts are no different than billboards, mailings and other marketing efforts, he said.

“We have never had a request from a third party asking for information about every single student. Our real concern is student privacy.”

Gov. Scott Walker has called to remove a cap on the number of students who can be part of the voucher program. The proposal in his 2015-17 budget would limit new recruits to students from public schools.

“We want parents to be aware of all the options they have,” said Bender, noting some private schools have had difficulty receiving information from school districts. “Parents have a right to know what options they have for their kids. Parents can’t be kept in the dark.”

Green Bay school officials notified families via email of the School Choice request, saying such a broad request is unprecedented.

“This is the first time we have ever had a request like this,” District Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld told Press-Gazette Media. “We have never had a request from a third party asking for information about every single student. Our real concern is student privacy.”

She had no comment about the fact the request came from a pro-voucher group.

Families are asked at the start of the school year whether they would like their child’s name to be included in student directories. The information then can be used, for example, in school yearbooks or news articles. A separate federal law regulates the release of student information for military or college purposes, officials said.

“Clearly, the Green Bay administration does not want parents to know about the many options available to them.”

The Green Bay district asked for $380 to cover its expenses in gathering the info, and had not heard back from School Choice as of Friday afternoon.

“While the district must comply with the request required by law, I find it difficult to believe that this was the intended purpose of the law,” Langenfeld said in her letter to parents. “Please know that we work hard every day to protect your student’s records and family’s personal information.”

Bender took a different view.

“Clearly, the Green Bay administration does not want parents to know about the many options available to them.” he said. “We suggest they focus on positive engagement with their parents instead of creating propaganda designed to misinform.”

In an email message to the Press-Gazette, Bender thanked Langenfeld, saying her mass email led a number of parents to call School Choice for information about vouchers.

The statewide voucher program allows families to use tax dollars to help pay for tuition for private or parochial schools.

The state’s previous budget expanded the program statewide, with 500 students added in 2013-14 and another 500 this school year. Green Bay area private schools have 91 students using vouchers.

— pzarling@pressgazettemedia.com or follow her on Twitter @PGPattiZarling
— Press-Gazette Media reporter Adam Rodewald contributed to this story.

2 Comments »

  1. […] pro-voucher group called School Choice Wisconsin has asked school districts to turn over the names and addresses of students, presumably for recruitment to […]

    Pingback by Wisconsin: Voucher Group Seeks Public Students’ Personal Data | Diane Ravitch's blog — February 19, 2015 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on aureliomontemayor and commented:
    Fully Fund Schools Equitably and Fairly

    Comment by aureliomontemayor — February 23, 2015 @ 3:40 pm | Reply


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