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Public school students' data available to anybody

This is frightening. Think of all the information schools have about students and their families. Public schools insist that districts must provide lists but parents can say no.

By Ignazio Messina

If your children are in a public school, their names, addresses, phone numbers, and grade levels are all on a list.

And unless you say so, anybody â not just the military â can get a copy.

A review of those who have asked for a copy of the Toledo Public Schoolsâ student database, either in its entirety or only for certain neighborhoods, finds charter school companies, for-profit tutoring services, the Catholic Diocese, out-of-town law firms, and at least two community activists.

Parents are given the option of choosing to keep their childrenâs information from anyone or specifically denying it to just the military, "non-TPS schools," colleges, or employment agencies, said Crystal Ellis, the districtâs chief-of-staff.

Mr. Ellis said the military is denied student lists until Oct. 15, which gives families about six weeks at the beginning of the academic year to opt out.

The Blade requested and received an electronic copy of the TPS student database â more than 29,600 students â that includes names of parents.

Superintendent John Foley admitted that he is uneasy with releasing the lists to just anyone, but said the district is bound to do so under the law.

âI think itâs inconsistent that we have to give this out to anyone,â Mr. Foley said. âI have asked about this at the state level many times ⦠because as we talk about school safety and predators, I think being required to give this out to just anyone is dangerous.â

All public school districts, not just TPS, are required to release their student database.

Sylvania City Schools spokesman Nancy Crandell said private schools and colleges have asked for copies of the districtâs student database.

âWe would take out anyone who has opted out off the list,â Ms. Crandell said. âI think parents are becoming more and more aware of that because we are having more and more opt out.â

The same is true in Michigan, according to Bedford Public Schools Superintendent Jon White.

âThe [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] allows the release without prior consent,â Mr. White said. âUnless and until written objection to it is received by the principal of the school.â

Parents can "opt out" of having their childrenâs directory information by requesting in writing that the school district keep it private. In most cases, the letter is submitted to the school.

But Ron Tarrant, superintendent of schools in Dundee, Mich., disagrees with that interpretation.

Mr. Tarrant said the school district would only release detailed directory information to the military.

âI have talked to a couple of other districts that say they release to the military because that is by law, but not to anyone unless itâs in their board policy,â Mr. Tarrant said.

He said before giving directory information to other entities, the district would post a public notice and give parents time to object, but the data would never include addresses and phone numbers.

Uncle Sam wants lists
Local military recruiters make up the majority of people asking Toledo Public Schools for lists of their students.

Many military recruiters have asked for the juniors and seniors at specific high schools.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward Malone said he uses the list to call students at home.

âYou canât see every student at school,â Sergeant Malone said. âWhen we call, sometimes they are receptive, sometimes they are not.â

The sergeant said he was unaware that anyone could get copies of the same lists that the military receives.

Kim Hall, assistant legal counsel for the Ohio Department of Education, said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

The law says generally that schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a studentâs education record, Ms. Hall said.

Without consent
But the same law says, âSchools may disclose, without consent, directory information such as a studentâs name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.â

The people and companies that have requested TPS student lists during the last two years include:

⢠U.S. Army Recruiting station, 4925 Jackman Rd. and 530 South Reynolds Rd.
⢠Navy Recruiting District Ohio in Columbus.
⢠Toledo Catholic Diocese.
⢠Lagrange Village Council.
⢠Alliance Academy of Toledo charter school, 1501 Monroe St.
⢠Star Academy charter school, 3700 Dorr St.
⢠McDonaldâs, 1520 Cherry St.
⢠OPOK Inc., an Indiana-based company.
⢠St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center Positive Choices program.
⢠University of Toledoâs Upward Bound youth program.
⢠Scholars for the 21st Century, a local for-profit tutoring company.
⢠Twila Page, African-American Parents Association.
⢠Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper LLC, a law firm in Cleveland, in May requested the 2006-07 student list along with the date and place of birth for all students. A lawyer for the firm could not be reached for comment.

Melvin Baker, who was listed as the contact for the Scholars for the 21st Century on its written public records request, refused to answer questions about his Oct. 1 request for the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all students at Nathan Hale and Lincoln elementary schools and Samuel M. Jones at Gunckel Park Middle School.

Kathy White, principal of Blessed Sacrament Catholic School on Castlewood Drive, said she requested the names and addresses of children at Longfellow Elementary so she could send them letters marketing the parochial school.

Peggy Daly-Masternak, a resident of West Toledo who is co-chairman of the âStudent and Family Rights and Privacy Committee,â said public school districts violate state law by releasing directory information to for-profit companies.

According to the Ohio Revised Code: âNo person shall release, or permit access to, the directory information concerning any students attending a public school to any person or group for use in a profit-making plan or activity.â

Notify parents
âAnger should be directed toward the school districts, with their resistance toward visible privacy protection, and to the General Assembly and feds who continue to allow privacy violations of minors, especially in this day and age,â Ms. Daly-Masternak said.

Jack Ford, who is a member of the Toledo Board of Education, said the school district must aggressively let parents know they can keep their children off the list.

âWhen you have two competing laws like that, you always get into this kind of conflict,â said Mr. Ford, who has a law degree. âI think the school system must notify parents that they can opt out.â

— Ignazio Messina<
Toledo Blade




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