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Missouri district sued over alleged teacher-led prayers with students

According to an Associated Press (AP) report on NECN.com, the American Humanist Association (AHA) has filed suit in federal court against Fayette R-III School District (FSD) alleging prayer session were held at Fayette High School (FHS) in violation of the Establishment Clause.  The suit charges that a math teacher led weekly Christian devotional prayer sessions in her classroom with students before the first class of the day for several years.

The suit also claims the teacher would urge students to pray for sick or injured students and joined the students in saying “amen.”  It also alleges the school’s former principal made an announcement over the public address system to remind students about the meetings.  In addition, the suit claims the teacher told students during her math class that God would punish them if they are not good and prominently displayed the book “God’s Game Plan” in her classroom.

Although the teacher and the principal left FHS after the end of the 2012-13 school year, AHA believes that the prayer sessions have continued.  However, AHA’s attorney, Monica Miller, said it unclear if the prayers are teacher led.

A FSD school district policy states that school employees “are to be present solely in a nonparticipatory capacity at any student-initiated religious activity held at school and will strictly observe a policy of official neutrality regarding religious activity.”

Source: NECN.com, 11/21/13, By AP

[Editor's Note: AHA's press release announcing the lawsuit said the AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter in May 2013 to FSD officials outlining the reasons why the school sponsored and promoted classroom prayers are unconstitutional.  The letter stated: “Courts have … consistently ruled that the Establishment Clause prohibits teachers from leading, sponsoring, or participating in prayer with students, whether during school hours or not.”

The legal complaint alleges that the classroom prayer sessions violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.  AHA is seeking declaratory judgment of that violation and a permanent injunction barring FSD from allowing any further classroom prayer sessions. 

In May 2013, Legal Clips summarized a story by WAFB reporting that AHA had filed suit against Northwest Rankin High School (Mississippi) challenging the school’s  mandatory student assemblies during which a Christian message was allegedy presented.  The suit was brought after a number of students claimed that a mandatory assembly was held during school hours where a representative of the Pinelake Baptist Church spoke of finding “hope” in “Jesus Christ.”]

Washington district abandons palm scanners in school cafeterias based on parent complaints

The Puyallup School District (PSD) has announced that it is dropping its plan to install palm scanners in school cafeterias after numerous parent complaints, says The News Tribune.  The touch-free technology, which has been used in schools in other parts of the country, employs numeric encryption to link to students’ pre-paid lunch money accounts in a separate database.  The scanners work by shining near-infrared light to illuminate the unique vein patterns in an individual’s palm.

Some parents objected on the ground the scanners are an invasion of student privacy.  Other parents were concerned that the technology would be collecting biometric data from children, despite school officials’ assurances that the devices did not store a child’s “biometric footprint.”  A segment of parents were angry that PSD rolled out the program without first informing parents.

PSD officials returned the scanners to the vendor for a full refund and destroyed all data collected during their limited use.  PSD officials plan to explore other options and report back to the school board in the spring.

The district originally turned to the palm scanners because it needed to replace a 12-year-old computer-based payment system that relied on outdated software.  Officials hoped the palm scanners would be easy for students to use and less subject to human error.  They also hoped the system would speed up breakfast and lunch lines, allowing more time for students to eat and enjoy their meal breaks.  The district’s meal program records an estimated 2 million transactions annually.

District communications director Brian Fox said that at Stahl Junior High School, where the scanners were in place for a month, the scanners saved between five and seven minutes during each 30-minute serving time.

Source: The News Tribune, 12/2/13, By Debbie Caffazo

[Editor's Note: In December 2012, Legal Clips summarized a press release from the Rutherford Institute announcing that the Carroll County Public School System (CCPS) in Maryland had agreed to cease installation of biometric palm readers in county schools and to seek an alternative program to meet CCPS’ efficiency goals.]

OCR conducts compliance review of Texas district’s discipline of African-American students

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently conducted a Title VI compliance review of Lubbock Independent School District (LISD) to determine  if disciplinary action is meted out to African-American and white students in an equal manner.  The review was not conducted as the result of a complaint, but rather as part of a nationwide performance review.

OCR investigators visited four high schools as well as six middle schools in the district and conducted interviews with two groups of 20 to 40 students on each campus.  Teachers and administrators at the campuses were also interviewed.  The majority of LISD students are  Hispanic.  The white students make up 30.6% of the student population, while African-American students make up 13.2%.

According to a portion of a letter from the lead investigator to Superintendent Berhl Robertson, the compliance reviews are part of a collaborative project between the ED and the Department of Justice to address the school-to-prison pipeline and the disciplinary policies and practices that can push students out of school and into the justice system.

Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 11/27/13, By Natalie Gross

[Editor's Note: In October 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that in the face of a civil rights investigation for disciplining black students more harshly than their white peers, the Oakland Unified School District voted to accept five years of federal monitoring as the district attempts to address the problem.  The agreement with ED shuts down the investigation, but it means that at least until 2017 federal officials will be monitoring 38 Oakland schools as they work to reduce the disproportionate suspension of minority students, especially African American boys.]

School board changes to district elections to settle California Voting Rights Act lawsuit

The ABC Unified School District (ABCUSD) has agreed to drop the at-large method of electing school board members, in favor of creating seven geographic voting areas, says the Los Angeles Times, in order to settle a suit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).  Voters in each area will elect a board member to represent them.

Advocates of the geographic district method believe that that system will improve minorities’ opportunities to elect a candidate they believe can best represent them.  “California’s future depends upon the success of our public education system,” said Thomas A, Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF. “That system works best when community interests are fairly represented,” adding that the settlement “ensures better representation” for the entire school district.

ABCUSD officials said they settled the suit to avoid “exorbitant” legal costs and to “ensure the district remains focused on student achievement.”  Board President Celia Spitzer said, “Deciding to settle this case, rather than defending an election process that has served this community and its students very well was, to say the least, difficult.”

The board, which is paying $140,000 in plaintiffs’ attorney fees as part of the settlement, will work with community members to draw up new voting areas in time for the next election, scheduled for 2015.

Governmental bodies with significant minority populations but little or no minority representation are increasingly being sued under the state’s voting-rights law.  A number have settled or voluntarily switched to by-district elections to avoid costly litigation.  Others, such as Palmdale, have resisted.  Officials there plan to appeal a ruling last summer that it is in violation of the voting-rights measure.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 11/20/13, By Jean Merl

[Editor's Note: In April 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Los Angeles Times reporting on MALDEF's suit against ABCUSD claiming the district was illegally diluting the voting clout of Latinos and barring them from elective office by using an at-large electoral system for school board races. ]

Four Ohio school employees including superintendent indicted in cover up of rape committed by two high school football players

A grand jury investigation into the 2012 rape of a female student has resulted in the indictment of four Steubenville City Schools (SCS) employees, including the superintendent of schools, reports CNN.  According to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, SCS Superintendent Michael McVey faces three felony counts: one charge of tampering with evidence and two counts of obstructing justice.  He also is charged with making a false statement and obstructing official business, both misdemeanors.

The grand jury also indicted elementary school principal Lynnett Gorman and wrestling coach Seth Fluharty, both of whom are charged with misdemeanor failure to report child abuse.  In addition, volunteer assistant Steubenville football coach Matt Belardine was charged with four misdemeanors: allowing underage drinking, obstructing official business, making a false statement and contributing to the unruliness or delinquency of a child.

The indictments stem from a 2012 rape by Steubenville High School football players Ma’lik Richmond and Trenton Mays of a girl at a party.  Photos and videos of the incident made their way onto social media and attracted national attention.

Following the football players’ convictions, a grand jury began investigating whether others should be charged.  In October 2013, the grand jury indicted William Rhinaman, director of technology for Steubenville City Schools, on charges of tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, obstructing official business and perjury.

Source: CNN, 11/26/13, By Staff

[Editor's Note: In June 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article on Mlive.com reporting that the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) had cited the Forest Hills school district in Grand Rapids, Mich. for failing to follow up on two separate sexual harassment and assault claims lodged against a student athlete. The OCR investigation lead to a resolution agreement imposing numerous requirements on the district.] 

California agrees to administer standardized tests after ED threatens to withhold billions

According to Southern California Public Radio, the California Department of Education (CDE) has announced that in response to a threat  from the U.S. Secretary of Education to withhold $3.5 billion in federal funding it is dropping plans to give students just one field test this spring on order to ease students into the new tests and the computer technology on which they’ll take them.

“These field tests simply make good sense, and expanding them to include both subjects for most students makes even better sense—in contrast to ‘double testing’ students, which makes little sense at all,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The change to California’s testing wasn’t entirely motivated by the Sword of Damocles the federal government hung above California schools, according to Richard Zeiger, of the California Department of Education.  “The motivation for the change is that we’d been hearing from schools, school officials and parents that they wanted their children and teachers wanted to be able to see both halves of the test,” Zeiger said.

California has requested a “blended” English and math test from the testing service that’s creating the new tests.  Officials want the test to take the same amount of time as for one full test.  Essentially, California students will be taking half of each test this spring.  They’ll take two full tests the following school year, officials said.

CDE also indicated that it will not comply with the federal requirement to report test results publicly because they say the tests are practice.

Source: Southern California Public Radio, 11/21/13, By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

[Editor's Note: In November 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in the San Jose Mercury News reporting that  U.S. Department of Education (ED) Assistant Secretary Deborah S. Delisle sent a letter to California education officials saying that the state risks losing more than $3.5 billion in federal funding because it decided not to administer out-dated standardized tests next spring. ED’s threat to withhold funding is a reaction to the state’s manner of implementing the Common Core.]

Court appointed overseer rejects Arizona district’s desegregation plan

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) magnet school plan has been rejected by the court appointed special master tasked with overseeing the district’s efforts to bring racial balance to its schools.  In September, TUSD’s board declined to approve the special master’s magnet school plan that would have eliminated popular programs at several schools and instead developed its own.

However, special master Willis Hawley concluded TUSD’s plan would have little to no impact on desegregation efforts.  Previously, Hawley had argued that TUSD needs to “bite the bullet” and move decisively to eliminate several magnets so that new ideas can be pursued.  TUSD decided to create its own plan with new criteria based on pleas from parents and community members who spoke of the tradition of generations of families attending the same school and the values that their programs promoted.

In his letter objecting to the plan, Hawley said, “I believe that this plan … while it has some strengths, has some provisions that significantly limit options for a meaningful comprehensive magnet plan.”  He added, “We can also see the politics of the situation promoted the status quo and will do so in the future.”

While the special master has the power to file an objection in federal court to the plan approved by the TUSD Governing Board, he has agreed to hold off on doing so if TUSD agrees to remedy his concerns in a comprehensive magnet plan by this spring.

Although TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez recognizes the need for diversity, he takes issue with the existing 70% standard for integration. “Currently, our student demographics cause a problem with the 70 percent standard,” Sanchez said in a memo to TUSD’s board.  “When the suit was filed nearly 40 years ago, minority student groups comprised between 20 to 25 percent of total student enrollment in TUSD.”

Latino students now make up 64% of the TUSD population and African-American students account for 7%.  With the existing 70 percent standard, magnet campuses with high Hispanic enrollment now must give preference to non-Hispanic students for enrollment, Sanchez said.  “In essence, because the demographics have flipped, the desegregation court order that provided access to quality programming to African-American students and Latino students is now limiting access for one of the two groups that originally filed the suit — Latino students,” he said.

But the schools that were spared by TUSD’s plan are far from serving what is considered an integrated population.  To be considered integrated, a campus must have less than 70 percent of any one ethnic group enrolled.  At all three of the spared magnets, the percentage of Hispanic students ranges from 86 percent to 90 percent.

TUSD’s plan gives spared schools two years to make significant changes. Other schools that were at risk of losing of their status were given a three-year window.  Hawley called the two- and three-year timelines unacceptable.

Hawley is also concerned that the district’s plan does not focus sufficiently on student achievement.  He said all magnet schools should be expected to, at a minimum, achieve a B grade, “regardless of how interesting the theme is or how well the school does on other criteria.”  Hawley pointed out that specific goals for showing improvement are nonexistent in the district’s plan, saying: “In the absence of specific goals, politics will determine the outcomes, micro-politics at that.”

“To put this another way, being a mediocre magnet school is not an option,” Hawley said.

Source: Arizona Daily Star, 11/15/13, By Alexis Huicochea

[Editor's Note: In July 2011, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (CA, OR, WA, AZ, MT, ID, NV, AK, HI, GU, MP) in Fisher v. TUSD holding that TUSD failed to achieve unitary status in regard to desegregating its schools.  The panel rejected the school district’s request to be released from the federal district court's 30 year-old desegregation decree, reversing the decision of the district court. The panel found that TUSD had failed to demonstrate that it had complied in good faith with the desegregation decree and to eliminate to the extent practicable the vestiges of past discrimination.] 

OCR working with Michigan district to improve minority students’ access to advance courses

Mlive reports that Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) is working with the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to revise its programs and honors course to focus on the under representation of African-American students in college and career preparatory courses.  ED wants the district to take steps to ensure that it is providing access to and an equal opportunity for black students to participate in rigorous courses for college and career preparation.  GRPS is currently working on a settlement agreement with OCR to ensure compliance with the requirements of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance from the Department of Education

About 40% of GRPS’ student population is African-American.  Sharron Pitts, GRPS’ assistant superintendent of human resources and general counsel, reported to the school board’s Finance Committee that: “They [OCR] are focused on African American students’ access to AP, honor courses and our schools that have admissions criteria – Zoo, Blandford, the Center for Economicology, and City Middle High School.  They are asking for a tremendous amount of data.”

She noted that OCR had requested GRPS hire a consultant to analyze its data and make recommendations for how it provides greater opportunity.  However, Pitts pointed out that OCR was not suggesting quotas or set asides for African-American students, but rather requiring that GRPS determine what barriers exists and if the programs provide sufficient academic rigor.   Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said the district has added AP courses in all their secondary schools, looked at dual enrollment, and have a plan to tackle suspensions and expulsions.

Source: mlive, 11/25/13, By Monica Scott

[Editor's Note: In April 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Journal News reporting that the White Plains, New York school system had entered into an agreement with OCR that required the district to encourage and provide more opportunities for nonwhite students to take AP and honors courses.  The agreement ended an OCR investigation, which began in 2011, into whether the district’s honors and AP course protocols discourage Hispanic, black or non-English speakers from taking the higher-level courses.  The investigation was part of OCR’s practice of randomly auditing districts for discrepancies.] 

Federal district court rules parents are entitled to reimbursement for unilateral placement at private school even though school offered FAPE, applying “stay put” to the unilateral placement

N.W. v. Poe, No. 13-07 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 4, 2013)

Abstract: A federal district court in Kentucky has ruled that a school district that provided a disabled student with a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was nonetheless responsible for reimbursing the parents for tuition at the private school where the parents had unilaterally placed the student.  The court found that the private school was the proper “stay put” placement under IDEA, and that the district was therefore liable for tuition reimbursement.

Facts/Issues: At the time N.W. was three, he was enrolled in the Boone County Schools (BCS) in Kentucky.   BCS determined that N.W. was eligible for special education services under the IDEA, and placed him at St. Rita School for the Deaf in Ohio.  In June 2010, when N.W. was 6, his parents unilaterally enrolled him in Applied Behavioral Sciences (ABS) school, also in Ohio.  BCS convened an Admissions and Release Committee (ARC) meeting on October 21, 2010 to discuss N.W.’s placement options.  Although the parents planned to transition N.W. back to public school, they believed ABS was the best placement at the time.

The parties agreed to a mediated settlement involving tuition, transportation, and attorneys fees’ reimbursement and N.W.’s transition back to the district.  The parties agreed to hold an ARC meeting on or before April 15, 2011 to discuss N.W.’s transition back to public school and that a board certified behavioral analyst would lead the transition team.

The spring ARC meeting did not take place until June 1, 2011.   As well, BCS’s board certified behavioral analyst did not attend that ARC meeting.  Even though BCS expressed its readiness to proceed with the transition plan, the parties to agreed to reconvene at a later date to allow the behavioral analyst to attend.  A follow-up ARC meeting was held in July, where the behavioral analyst presented a transition plan under which N.W.’s placement would be the New Haven Elementary School, a BCS school.  N.W.’s parents raised concerns about the plan, but they did not object to it.  The parties agreed to meet on August 25, 2011 to discuss dates on which to begin N.W.’s transition back to public school.

At the August 25, 2011 ARC meeting, BCS’ behavioral analyst presented a detailed transition plan.  The parents, however, claimed that the plan was not specific enough and ended the meeting.  BCS sent letters to the parents and their counsel requesting further ARC meetings.  At the end of October the parents requested a due process hearing.  The hearing was delayed until March 2012 while the parties engaged in settlement negotiations.

The hearing officer (HO) ruled that BCS had not denied N.W a FAPE and that the ARC team membership complied with the IDEA even though the behavioral analyst was not present at the initial meeting on June 1. Specifically, the HO found that the behavioral analyst was not a statutorily required member and, even if she was, the parents had failed to prove her absence at one ARC meeting caused any actual harm.  The HO also found that BCS’s transition plan did not deny N.W. a FAPE because the failure to provide such a plan is a procedural error and N.W. provided no evidence that BCS’s plan resulted in a denial of educational benefits.  The HO ordered the parties to continue working on a transition plan similar to that proposed by BCS at the August 25, 2011 ARC meeting.

However, the HO concluded that ABS was the “stay-put” placement under IDEA and, as a result, ordered BCS to reimburse the parents for transportation and tuition through end of the 2012 summer session at ABS.

Both parties appealed the decision to the Exceptional Children’s Appeal Board (ECAB).  The ECAB affirmed the HO’s conclusion that BCS had offered N.W. a FAPE.  More specifically, the ECAB held that New Haven was an appropriate placement for N.W. , BCS’ transition plan was adequate in all aspects, and BCS’s ARC team was composed of the required individuals.  Additionally, the ECAB reversed the HO’s “stay-put” order, and held that N.W. was not entitled to compensatory education, tuition reimbursement, transportation costs, or attorney’s fees.  The ECAB ruled that ABS was not the “stay put” placement because the district had never consented to that placement.

N.W.’s parents then filed an appeal in federal district court.

Ruling/Rationale: The district court granted in part and denied in part BCS’s motion for summary judgment on the administrative record.  The court upheld the ECAB’s rulings as to the district’s offering of FAPE, the proposed transition plan, the ARC membership, the placement decision, and the continuum of placement options.  However, it reversed the ECAB’s ruling on “stay-put” and reinstated the HO’s decision that the parents were entitled to reimbursement.

N.W. argued that BCS failed to develop and implement an appropriate IEP because the proposed transition plan was not appropriate.  The court responded that the IDEA does not require a transition plan when a student is moving from one school to another, only when the student is transitioning from school to post-school activities.  Further, N.W.’s argument at most presents a procedural claim, which fails because N.W. did not show that it resulted in any substantive harm or denial of educational benefits.  Even if the transition plan was inadequate, there was sufficient time to address any shortcomings in the plan because N.W. never actually transitioned to the school.

The district court found that that failure to include a required member on the ARC was a procedural error that required substantive harm to be actionable. Assuming without deciding that the behavioral analyst was a required member, the court found that no substantive harm resulted from her absence at the initial ARC meeting.

The court ruled that BCS’s proposed placement was appropriate.  The parents were unable provide any evidence that the public school environment chosen by BCS was not reasonably calculated to provide N.W. with educational benefits.  N.W.s expert witness admitted that she had no knowledge about New Haven’s classrooms and ABS’s owner admitted that she could no offer an opinion about N.W.s placement at New Haven.  The court rejected the parents’ argument that the students in the classroom were less verbally proficient than N.W. because that argument was based solely on the mother’s opinion and disputed by the classroom teacher, citing a Sixth Circuit decision that a parent’s opinion alone is insufficient to prove a FAPE violation.

Despite finding that BCS had offered N.W. a free appropriate public education, the court ordered the district to reimburse the parents for the tuition and costs associated with their unilateral placement of N.W. at ABS.  The court sided with the Hearing Officer’s conclusion that ABS was the appropriate “stay put” placement, reversing the ECAB’s ruling on the “stay put” issue.  Finding that ABS was the “stay put” placement, the court ordered BCS to pay for N.W.’s tuition at ABS through the date of the court’s decision.  The court’s rationale was that “N.W.’s operative placement under which he was actually receiving instruction at the time the dispute arose was ABS,” despite the fact that that placement was arrived at unilaterally by the parents without the school district’s assent.

Interestingly, the court had earlier in its decision bolstered its conclusion that BCS’s transition plan complied with the IDEA with this quote from Park Hill School District v. Dass, 655 F.3d 762, 767-768 (8th Cir. 2011): “IDEA was not intended to fund private school tuition for children of parents who have not first given the public school a good faith opportunity to met its obligations.”

N.W. v. Poe, No. 13-07 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 4, 2013)

[Editor's Note: The court's rationale for ordering tuition reimbursement--a parent's unilateral placement equals stay put equals reimbursement even though the district offered a FAPE-- will likely cause school districts to face increased litigation and huge tuition costs.  

Boone County Schools is appealing this decision.

The Council of School Attorneys has created the COSA IDEA Re-authorization Working Group, comprising approximately 30 school attorneys from across the nation.  The group is preparing recommendations to inform NSBA's advocacy to Congress on needed revisions to the IDEA.  The issue of school district responsibility for unilateral placements is one key area the working group is addressing.

In May 2012, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (DE, NJ, PA, VI) in D.P. v. Council Rock Sch. Dist. holding that a Pennsylvania parent, who unilaterally placed a special education student in a private school, was not entitled to tuition reimbursement on the basis that the school district failed to update the student’s individualized education plan after the student was privately placed.  The panel held that because the parent never requested that the student be reevaluated, or informed the school district that the parent intended to re-enroll the student in public school, the school district had no duty under the IDEA to update the student’s IEP and no responsibility for tuition reimbursement.] 

Five steps school districts should take to protect Cloud data

The Center for Digital Education reported on a CoSN webinar where experts outlined five steps school districts should take to manage their data in the cloud.  The cloud prompts school district leaders to consider where they store their data, why they’re collecting data, and how to keep it private, a panel of experts said in the webinar.  And it’s not easy to keep data private in the cloud because technology and privacy policies change so quickly, said Jim Siegl, technology architect at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, who moderated the webinar for CoSN.  “Is privacy in the cloud possible?” Siegl said. “Yes, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of communication.”

The panel laid out five steps to ensure such privacy:

1. Communicate what data you’re collecting and why.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Chief Privacy Officer, Kathleen M. Styles, suggests that school districts maintain a page on their websites that outlines what data they collect, who has access to it, and why it’s being collected.  This transparency builds trust between school districts and the community, said Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign.  If the community doesn’t see the value of collecting data, they will negatively react to the practice. “If it’s all risk and no value add, that’s when fear grows,” Guidera said

2. Find out what data people need.

Ms. Guidera points out that school districts often collect data that’s not valuable because no one uses it.  For every piece of data that’s collected, school districts spend money and take on the risk of guarding its privacy.

3. Make data and cloud decisions based on district values.

Mr. David Rubin, an attorney who’s a member of the Council of School Attorneys, said superintendents and school boards should make these decisions, not teachers.  Many teachers have good intentions when they sign their students up for no charge websites, but they’re putting student data in the hands of a third party without the district’s knowledge.  “Districts are not policing their teachers adequately in terms of signing up for these free apps,” Styles said. Any app or service should go through a procurement, policy and legal review before school districts hand over student data to third parties, Styles said.  And when they do hand it over, the privacy law FERPA requires the third party to:

a) Perform a service that an educator would otherwise do;

b) Use and maintain the education records under the direct control of the school district;

c) Use education data in a manner consistent with the annual FERPA notification of rights that districts send to parents; and

d) Not disclose or use the data for unauthorized purposes.

Styles stressed that third-party providers do not own the student data and that they act at the school district’s direction.

4. Assess your record-keeping practices and clean them up.

Styles believes school districts should take the time to analyze their data collection practices and processes before moving anything to the cloud.  And this analysis could help address problems that the school district previously didn’t handle, Rubin said.  “Oftentimes when you’re dealing with new legal issues, it forces you to confront concerns that really have always existed, but we haven’t paid much attention to,” Rubin said

5. Take an inventory of the records you have in the cloud.

Once school districts address these problems, they may be ready to move data to the cloud. But not before they record where all of their data is located.  If districts don’t take an inventory of the records they have, they’ll have a hard time finding them later when they need them.

Source: Center for Digital Education, 11/13/13, By Tanya Roscorla

[Editor's Note: We thank Mr. David Rubin, a COSA member, for his excellent representation of the interests of school districts and school attorneys.

Another resource on the Cloud available to COSA members is the December 2011 Inquiry & Analysis article: Cloud computing issues for schools.] 

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