Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Student Privacy Is in Danger, but Arizona Is Fighting Back

Logan Albright is the Research Analyst at FreedomWorks, and is responsible for producing a wide variety of written content for print and the web, as well as conducting research for staff media appearances and special projects.

He received his Master’s degree in economics from Georgia State University in 2011, before promptly setting out for D.C. to fight for liberty. He is a firm believer in the Austrian School of economics and the rights of individuals to live their lives as they see fit without government interference.

One of the most pernicious aspects of Common Core is the data collection that has come hand-in-hand with the standards.

The Department of Education has been extremely tight-lipped about what kind of information schools are actually collecting, but we know from anecdotal evidence that students are being asked to surrender all sorts of personal details without parental knowledge, much less parental consent.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated that he wants to be able to track students from preschool all the way to their careers using personally identifiable information (PII), and a report from the Department of Education presented a wish list of data collection, including the terrifying concept of monitoring facial expressions and eye movements for diagnostic purposes.

Once this data is collected, it is sent to the federal government, where it can be shared across agencies, and any number of bureaucrats can learn sensitive information about your children.

In response to this, a state representative from Arizona is spearheading an effort to stop this unconstitutional practice.

Rep. Mark Finchem is working on a project called “It’s My PII,” which is seeking an injunction against the federal government’s ability to collect PII without parental consent, and challenging executive action from the Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is supposed to protect student-data privacy and parental rights, but in 2012, the Department of Education issued regulations greatly loosening those protections.

While the executive branch has the authority to direct the actions of Cabinet agencies, it cannot unilaterally alter existing laws without Congress writing new legislation. In spite of this, educational authorities are using the president’s order as a justification for collecting data in violation of FERPA as written.

“It’s My PII” contends that this is illegal, and is collecting resources to launch litigation against the government, as well as preparing legislation to stop the further collection and distribution of PII in the state.

The idea that the government can track everything about students should be frightening to anyone who values the right of self-determination. The data collected through standardized testing can be used to create a profile on children that follows them throughout their whole lives, especially given that the data is able to be shared across many governmental agencies.

What’s worse, the Arizona attorney general determined in 2014 that parents cannot opt their children out of state-mandated tests. So not only is data being collected without parental consent, but it is actually illegal for parents to refuse the tests where that data originates.

The opt-out movement is one that has been sweeping the nation in response to Common Core’s onerous testing requirements and the gross violations of student privacy. The issue has gained such attention that federal education bills currently working their way through Congress have been peppered with amendments intended to stop the government from bullying students over opt-outs, authored by pro-liberty lawmakers Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona.

The effort to stop this kind of federal meddling in education — for which the Constitution grants no authorization whatsoever — has implications far broader than Arizona. A successful challenge could greatly restrict the government’s ability to violate your privacy in general, and reduce the Department of Education’s regulatory power considerably.

The federal government has shown itself incapable of restraining its own power on issues of regulations and data collection. If meaningful reforms are going to be made, they are going to have to originate in the states. Once successful, they can then serve as a springboard to national change.

The Arizona effort to protect parents’ rights and student privacy is a great first step towards a freer education system for us all.


‘Scandalous’ number of schools in England are demanding illegal financial contributions from parents

Parents are being unlawfully milked for cash by schools which pester them for ‘voluntary contributions’, it was claimed yesterday.

An investigation by the British Humanist Association (BHA) has found at least 100 schools now ask families for payments, in a potential breach of the rules.

While the problem was found in a wide range of different types of school, 90 per cent of those flagged up were run by faith groups.

Under government guidelines, state-funded schools must not ask for compulsory payments or pressurise parents into making ‘voluntary payments’.

However, the BHA research found that some schools are using questionable tactics to get parents to contribute towards school buildings, equipment and activities.

One school even sent out a letter claiming it was parents’ ‘responsibility’ to pay 10 per cent of the costs of building works.

Many faith schools are ‘voluntary aided’, meaning extra funding is provided by a church or other charitable organisation, but parents are not obliged to contribute.

Critics have warned that pressuring parents into handing over money may cause stress for those on low incomes and even discourage them from sending their children to a school.

Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive, said: ‘It is scandalous that the 10 per cent of capital costs which religious groups running state schools are obliged to pay is actually being demanded unlawfully from parents and even that money is being demanded at all.

‘The fact that these abuses occur so widely, and that it is only down to our investigation that they have been exposed, should call into question the whole system of regulation surrounding state-funded faith schools.’

As things stand, schools are allowed to seek voluntary donations from parents, but must not pressurise them and must make it clear that there is no obligation to pay up.

They are also not permitted to accept any kind of payment in relation to admissions.

The BHA said it found a large number of schools asking parents for money whilst either putting undue pressure on them to contribute or not making it clear that contributions were voluntary.

As an example it highlighted one Church of England primary school asking parents for an annual payment of £30 for its ‘building fund/capitation for parents’.

Its website states: ‘This is not a voluntary contribution but it is a payment all Church of England schools require to maintain the school buildings and classrooms.’

A Catholic primary school’s website asks parents for £100 per family towards ‘building works’, saying: ‘As a voluntary aided school, parents of the pupils attending the school are responsible for contributing 10 per cent towards all building works.’

The BHA claims that a number of schools also stressed that the requested contribution, far from being voluntary, was a minimum amount, encouraging families that could afford to pay more to do so.

One school was even found to have suggested that parents should contribute to the fund by using the money they were saving as a result of receiving free school meals.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The School Admissions Code is clear that schools must not request financial contributions - whether voluntary or compulsory - as any part of the admissions process, including when offering a place.

‘Any claim that the School Admissions Code has been breached will be investigated.’


San Francisco Elementary School Adopts 'Gender-Neutral' Bathrooms

Miraloma Elementary, a grade school in San Francisco, has instituted a policy of gender-neutral bathrooms. The school is changing restroom door symbols accordingly.

“There’s no need to make them gender-specific anymore,” Miraloma Principal Sam Bass told the website SFGate.com. “One parent said, ‘So, you’re just making it like it is at home.’”

A 2013 California law requires schools to allow students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, and San Francisco has had a similar policy on the books since 2003. While many schools in the country have separate restroom accommodations for students claiming to be transgender - a condition in which a person identifies with a gender different from the one they are born as - Miraloma is rare in its order to change all of its facilities to be free of any gender signifiers.

As the school year started, workers at Miraloma removed circles, triangles, and other traditional symbols of male and female from bathroom doors. The kindergarten and first grade bathrooms are the first facilities to have been altered; the rest of the school will be transformed over the next few years.


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