Privacy and Your Education Plan
The increasing shift toward electronic record keeping over the last few years has raised awareness of the need to monitor the sharing of personal information of all kinds and to take active measures to protect one’s privacy.
The Student Information Management System (SIMS) is an electronic database platform maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to collect and analyze information about public school students. Data which might be found on a district’s SIMS database includes student identity and contact information, such as name, address, phone number, and date of birth; records pertaining to participation in any classes, extracurricular activities, or athletic teams; and special education records.
Because SIMS collects data on “all students receiving a publicly funded education,”1 homeschoolers, who are not registered students, should not be entered into this database. However, if a homeschooler receives special education services; participates in classes, activities, or athletic teams; or was previously enrolled in a Massachusetts school before “transferring to homeschool,” a record for them might appear on SIMS. Any homeschooler whose information has been entered into SIMS is therefore potentially impacted by a district’s sharing of information as permitted by law.
The primary federal statute that regulates access to public school student records is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). According to the US Department of Education, FERPA gives … parents … the right to access their children's education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, the right to consent to disclosure of personally identifiable information from the records…, and the right to file a complaint with the Department. When a student reaches 18 years of age or attends a postsecondary institution, they become an "eligible student," and all rights under FERPA transfer from the parent to the student.2 Originally enacted in 1974, it is considered by many to offer insufficient protection in the digital age due in part to regulations edited in 2011 to allow more access to student records by private entities.3 However, Massachusetts regulation 603 CMR 23.00 insures “parents' and students' rights of confidentiality, inspection, amendment, and destruction of student records”4 and is considered to provide an additional layer of privacy protection not afforded by FERPA.
Under both FERPA and MA 603 CMR 23.00, a school must provide notice to parents of the kind of information they give out freely, along with notice that parents may opt out of this sharing.
Massachusetts homeschoolers ought not to be included in a school’s directory information, but if they are, parents may not be included in the notification about opting out of sharing that personal information with third parties. For that reason, homeschoolers concerned about any potential sharing of personal information can submit written notice that they do not provide consent for their district to release any information to any third party. The following wording suggestion is adapted from the FERPA Model Notice for Directory Information5 and can be added to your education plan:
“I do not want [School District] to disclose directory information from my child’s education records to any outside organizations without my prior written consent. This includes any of the following information that [School District] may have designated as directory information: student’s name, address, telephone listing, electronic mail address, photograph, date and place of birth, major field of study, dates of attendance, grade level, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, degrees, honors, and awards received, and the most recent educational agency or institution attended.”
You may also wish to add a reminder that the education plan itself is private:
“Pursuant to 603 CMR 23.00, the information contained herein is private and must be kept in a secure location. This information may not be released to any person who does not work directly with the student in an administrative or diagnostic capacity. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education may conduct reviews to insure compliance with 603 CMR 23.00. The school committee and the specific school(s) involved shall cooperate to the fullest extent with such review.”