Is our students’ private data safe with OUSD?

UPDATE: 8/10/2022 – OUSD has failed to respond to our concerns and tonight will vote, again without discussion, on a new data sharing agreement without concern for the safety and security of that data and the privacy of our students and families. Read the letter that we sent OUSD school board members today:

Dear Directors,

We are concerned about your continued silence on the issue we raised in our below letter, and about the presence of yet another data sharing agreement on the agenda for this evening (item V1.1, 22-1792, Agreement with the Education Superhighway) in the second consent agenda, which you no doubt expect to pass without discussion tonight. We once again urge you to halt the approval of all data sharing agreements immediately until such time as you have an up to date policy which protects student data from monetization, marketing and/or theft, and we have a comprehensive review of existing data sharing agreements to determine if they are necessary, secure and whether the contract underlying the data sharing agreement is effectively forwarding legitimate and necessary district goals. As you know, the use of data sharing agreements has exploded over the last few years in OUSD, and nationally the number of data breaches increased by 68% (Data breaches break record in 2021 – CNET). 

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We look forward to this item being pulled from consent and tabled until such time as you have done the due diligence to ensure we are doing all we can to protect our children. Now is the time for this board to take action to safeguard our children and families.

ORIGINAL POST: We all know how important it is to safeguard our personal and financial data, and to monitor our children’s safety when they use the internet, but can we be sure that our childrens’ privacy is being protected while they are learning at school and that our democratically elected school board is taking all steps necessary to understand what data is being shared and why, and whether the recipients are trusted? Turns out, maybe not, because the Oakland Unified School District (“OUSD”) Board doesn’t usually take the time to discuss and understand the many data sharing agreements that they approve. From 2005 through 2020, the OUSD Board approved an average of 2 data sharing agreements per year, but in 2021 that number soared to 23, and this year we have already approved 14 agreements and we are just halfway through the year.

2022 Data through July, remaining years are January through December

In light of the approval by OUSD’s board of a data sharing agreement with Illuminate Education, which had a massive data breach earlier in the year, we have some serious questions about whether student data privacy is being adequately protected by our district. Given the explosion of ed tech use during the pandemic, now is the time for the OUSD board to take a hard look at who we are sharing data with, how effective those programs are in improving outcomes for kids and if that information is transparent so that parents can decide if they are comfortable having their child participate. Illuminate has not been forthcoming with information about the breach, so we don’t know that OUSD was impacted, but a serious data breach can cause financial and personal headaches for years to come. Now is the time to figure this all out, so Parents United sent the below letter to our school board members demanding that they act now to safeguard our children’s privacy.

Dear Directors,

Parents United for Public Schools has repeatedly raised concerns about the number, scope and recipients of data sharing agreements that Oakland Unified enters into and have requested that this Board demand a comprehensive audit of those agreements to ensure transparency and the safety of our student data. Director Williams has also requested information about these agreements. Yet this Board continues to approve these agreements without discussion and without any real understanding of what is contained within them. After years of approving an average of 2 data sharing agreements per year, this Board approved 23 agreements in 2021 and has already approved 14 agreements in 2022 with half of the year to go. OUSD has a responsibility to students and families to evaluate these agreements in a comprehensive way, and so we raise this issue once again.

On June 29, 2022, this Board renewed a contract with Illuminate Education which includes a data sharing agreement going back a number of years allowing the sharing (without notice to families and caregivers) of some or all of the following:

  • Name, address, email and phone number
  • Testing results
  • student attendance
  • behavioral data
  • course schedules
  • disability information and IEP/504 plan information
  • State identification numbers
  • medical information and 
  • data about whether student is unhoused or in foster care

This is sensitive data that parents/caregivers are not informed is being shared, and which must be protected carefully and shared sparingly.

Yet at the time that OUSD renewed the Illuminate Education contract there was easily available information about a “massive” data breach in January, 2022 of Illuminate data sources, impacting hundreds of thousands of students nationally, something that has been written about, reported on television and has resulted in multiple class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of students. Chalkbeat published an article March 29th, 2022 informing caregivers what steps to take to protect their child, and their own, privacy. ( NYC student data breach: How to protect your family online – Chalkbeat New York). The New York Department of Education in May, 2022 banned its schools from using any Illuminate products as a result of the breach (NYC schools ban use of Illuminate Education products after massive data breach (nypost.com), saying that it was not a decision that they made lightly and that “DOE made this decision after extensive investigation and deliberation, and based on our deep commitment to protecting the privacy of our families and students.” OUSD should not value its students any less. Students should not be forced to give up their privacy in order to learn, and by entering into this and all of the other data sharing agreements currently in place, without review or discussion, OUSD is not being responsible stewards of student privacy. You are not doing even a basic due diligence dive into the need for and safety of these contracts. This Board approved the Illuminate contract as part of the Consent Agenda, without discussion, on June 29, 2022 when a very simple google search could have identified these significant privacy concerns. This is unconscionable.

Therefore, we are renewing our call for an audit of all data sharing agreements, with an analysis of the necessity and security of the agreement, as well as whether the contract underlying the data sharing agreement is effectively forwarding legitimate and necessary district goals. In addition, we call for this board to review and revise all Board Policies (and attendant Administrative Regulations) relating to data sharing agreements and student data privacy, including but not limited to Board policy 5022 (“Student and Family Privacy Rights” amended 2005), Board Policy 5125 (“Student records” amended 2018) and Board Policy 5125.1 (“Release of Directory Information” amended 2005) to ensure that the policies are up to date given the huge increase in ed-tech use since the pandemic. According to a July, 2022 report issued by the Human Rights Watch, 89% of all ed tech products they reviewed allowed companies to surveil students in class and at home. “We think our kids are safe in school online. But many of them are being surveilled, and parents have often been kept in the dark. Kids are priceless, not products. Children, parents, and teachers were largely kept in the dark about the data surveillance practices we uncovered in children’s online classrooms,” said Hye Jung Han, a children’s rights and technology researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “By understanding how these online learning tools handled their child’s privacy, people can more effectively demand protection for children online.” Online Learning Products Enabled Surveillance of Children | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org)

According to the legislative information center, you already have a data sharing agreement on the schedule for August (EducationSuperHighway, funded by the Walton and Gates foundations, among others) and so this matter cannot wait. We look forward to your immediate action on this important issue prior to approving another potentially harmful data sharing agreement.

#ousd #datasharing #studentdata #studentprivacy