The Elk Grove Unified School District became one of the first school districts to notify parents that personal data on their children on file with the California Department of Education would be released to a disabled parent group that won a court judgement.
The Department of Education fought against the release for three years but has been ordered by a federal judge to give access to the data to Concerned Parents of California, which says it needs the data to determine if disabled students are being treated fairly under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Elk Grove Unified School District is not a part of the lawsuit but feels compelled to let parents know that the data, including names, birth dates, names of parents and disciplinary actions will be released by the state. It is also giving them access to a federal court form that allows them to opt out of the data release if they file it within the next 60 days.
The Department of Education says it will continue to protect the privacy rights of students by exploring other legal means to keep the information confidential.
Disabled Rights California is not a part of the lawsuit but has its own legal actions against the Department of Education.
Spokeswoman Pat McConahay says the intent of the parents is not to harm students or delve into their private lives.
"It's information that will help the courts determine whether the state really is doing its job. We don't believe that's happening," McConahay said.
Parents and privacy advocates say the state is ill-equipped to keep such information secret once it's distributed to outside parties.
Others argue that the court order is restrictive, allowing only an analyst to look at numbers that might determine, for instance, if disabled black or Hispanic students are pigeonholed in terms of treatment and educational opportunities. No more than 10 people will have access to the data, although the Department of Education says that's 10 too many.
The Elk Grove district is telling its parents that they routinely report student data to the state which does not include social security numbers.
The opt-out form for the federal court is available on the California Department of Education website. Critics say parents only have 60 days to opt out, and it is up to a judge to see if they can make a case that their child's information should not be released for inspection.