Scott Schwebke has a news story out of Utah that highlights why parents need to know their children’s privacy rights under FERPA and applicable state laws:
The mother of a student at DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts contends a research study conducted at the charter school by a Weber State University professor violated state regulations because it was done without proper parental consent.
Michelle Kimball, a Mountain Green resident whose 14-year-old daughter, Georgia, is a student at DaVinci, is questioning how the school and Todd Baird, a professor in Weber State’s Psychology Department, administered the 10-page survey to students in grades 9-11.
DaVinci Executive Director Fred Donaldson said the school has tried to appease Kimball and has even destroyed the survey results at her request.
“I don’t know what her issue is,” he said of Kimball’s persistent criticism of the survey. “I’ve bent over backwards and have said we will just fix it.”
Read more on The Standard-Examiner.
He doesn’t understand the parent’s concerns? Seriously?
Neither the researcher nor the university reportedly did anything wrong, according to a review of the matter by the U.S. Dept. of Education, although the department noted the error in the consent letter that described the results as “anonymous” instead of “confidential.”
Did the consent procedure violate state law, though?
State law prohibits schools from administering surveys to students that reveal information about the student’s family without explicit permission of parents or guardians, said Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the state Office of Education.
Because the DaVinci survey results have been destroyed, she said, the school doesn’t face any sanctions. “No harm, no foul.”
That sounds to me like the charter school may have violated the state law, as the parent alleged.
In this blogger’s opinion, surveys that ask students about sensitive and/or family issues should require informed opt-in consent. And schools that participate in such studies should be clear with parents about how the data will be used, who will have access to it, for how long it will be stored, and how it will be secured. Not mentioned in this story was the issue of using a survey/research tool to screen or provide services to students if that survey or research tool has not yet been shown to be valid for what it purports to measure. But that’s a whole other issue and I have no knowledge of this particular survey.
In this case, though, state law seems to provide greater protections than federal law. And one parent’s firm voice made a difference. While I share the researcher’s concerns and frustration, much of this could have been avoided by using informed opt-in consent and reviewing the letter that went out to parents before it went out.