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BOE Discusses Confidentiality Protocols
The Board of Education discussed student data, privacy, and confidentiality protocols following recent parent concerns at its meeting on October 2.
At its previous meeting on September 18, the board voted to support a special education self-study. Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue first presented the idea for the self-study to board members at a September 4 meeting, in response to parent concerns voiced at an August 14 meeting. Recent parent complaints voiced at multiple meetings outlined issues regarding practices and accommodations for special education students, mostly for students with dyslexia. Some of the complaints described alleged incidents of having confidential student information sent to other families.
“We’ve heard from parents around the issue of student data and confidentiality. This is something that I know districts deal with every day, especially around the enormity of e-mails, [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] requests, and materials that we manage every day,” said Dr Rodrigue, adding that one of the district’s goals is to manage sensitive data with integrity and to respond to issues by reaching out to families.
Director of Pupil Services Deborah Mailloux-Petersen and Director of Technology Carmella Amodeo both spoke at the meeting on the topic. Issues concerning confidentiality, Ms Mailloux-Petersen explained, can occur in different situations. She described two cases she is aware of: Each issue stemmed from teachers attempting to have positive communication with parents that then resulted in an accidental use of the “CC” option on e-mails rather than using the “BCC” option. The CC option allows other people included on the e-mail to view other e-mail recipients while the BCC option is “blind.”
Another confidentiality issue occurred, she continued, after a parent made a request for records.
“There was an e-mail within that FERPA request from 2013 that had an attachment, which listed other students’ names,” said Ms Mailloux-Petersen, adding later that within the documents shared through the FERPA request, one report shared information about a separate child from the original request.
Discussions with district educators and staff about confidentiality happen frequently, according to Ms Mailloux-Petersen.
“I do try to give them some training on how to protect the confidentiality of students, particularly with e-mails, where a lot of errors can occur,” said Ms Mailloux-Petersen.
FERPA requests alone can average about 600 pages, and in the last year there have been nine FERPA requests, according to Ms Mailloux-Petersen.
“When [a confidentiality issue] is brought to our attention we do reach out to the parent right away to let them know what has occurred,” said Ms Mailloux-Petersen.
She also explained that when FERPA requests are made, it typically requires roughly a two-year span of e-mails to be printed and combed through for needed redactions. Ms Mailloux-Petersen then reads the reports to further check for needed censorship.
When a breach in confidentiality becomes known, Ms Amodeo said the district’s process is to immediately notify families of children who may have been included. An investigation is then held to determine what occurred, and the district decides how to proceed to prevent the same type of breach from happening again.
Reflecting that the issues seem to revolve around e-mail use, Board of Education member Dan Delia asked, “It’s really easy to click Send, so, I don’t know, is there something we can do to help tighten that?”
Ms Mailloux-Petersen said she encourages communication by phone or in person. Ms Amodeo said making e-mails as general as possible is stressed.
Board members discussed ways to potentially review problematic areas.
If a confidentiality issue arises, Board of Education Vice Chair Rebekah Harriman-Stites said, “I think it’s the way we communicate with parents that is really important at that point.”
Later during public participation, district parents discussed related concerns and announcements. One parent — after sharing she is extremely disappointed with the district for its lack of support for her son with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — asked the board members to address how the district supports students with “all cognitive issues.”
Parent Alissa Heizler-Mendoza said several families in Newtown are collaborating with the Connecticut Decoding Dyslexia group, which aims “to raise dyslexia awareness, empower families to support their children and inform policy-makers on best practices to identify, remediate, and support students with dyslexia in our public schools,” according to its website (decodingdyslexiact.org).
“We are hosting a dyslexia forum on Capitol Hill in Hartford on Thursday afternoon, October 11, for Dyslexia Awareness Month,” said Ms Heizler-Mendoza, adding that she was asked to present at the event.
Ms Heizler-Mendoza also said she has spoken with staff at C.H. Booth Library, and she hopes an “awareness table” will be set up at the library. She also said she reached out to the school district’s Special Education Department to collaborate on raising awareness about dyslexia, but she said she did not receive a reply.
Parent Liza Mecca pointed out that “two of the three bulleted points” for the district’s approved special education self-study focus on reading instruction.
“I think it is really important to note that I don’t think we need a self-study to understand how to teach children to read,” Ms Mecca said. “I think between August and December, when we get the results of their findings, there are so many children in this district that are suffering, and we could be implementing interventions now.”
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