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Collection of student data sparks concern from parents

By Jen Austin
Published On: Feb 05 2014 07:21:12 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 05 2014 07:30:52 PM CST

Some parents in Idaho Falls are fighting to keep the information on all Idaho students safe from hackers, as well as from the state and federal governments.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

Some parents in Idaho Falls are fighting to keep the information on all Idaho students safe from hackers, as well as from the state and federal governments.

At issue is a state-managed student database called Idaho System for Educational Excellence. ISEE gives officials access to student data that is collected on a school district level. It can include names, addresses, parents' income, some medical information, grades, disciplinary records and much more.

A similar program in other states is being used, known as inBloom -- a student database primarily funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In New York in November, thousands of students' information was posted online after inBloom was hacked.

Teacher's aide and mom Stephanie Gifford said she is concerned that hackers could do the same in Idaho. But even worse, she said, why the state is asking for the data in first place?

"It's a cradle-to-the-grave tracking system, and that's completely inappropriate and un-American to do that to our citizens without their knowledge or consent," Gifford said.

Gifford is referring to a law that was quietly passed in 2010. The law states that school districts must send the personal data to the state of Idaho, rather than general data as was being done previously.

According to the grant application that was submitted by the state to the federal government, the state is wanting to use the database for research, as well as to see how students' education affects their outcomes in life and what kind of careers they enter into.

That requires local school districts to send all the information on every student that they have to the Idaho State Board of Education.

John Pymm, Bonneville Joint School District 93 spokesman, said school funding relies on the district sending that information.

"If our ISEE database is not 100 percent accurate … we don't get our funding," he said. "If we don't get our funding, it's really hard to pay for buses, it's really hard to pay for teachers, really hard to heat the buildings."

Gifford said the state has put the school districts in a difficult spot. She said they are forced to comply even if they feel it's an invasion of privacy.

She also said she's worried about the information being forwarded on to the federal government.

State Sen. John Goedde, the Senate Education Committee chairman, is drafting legislation to prevent the data from going to a federal level.

"There's great concern that because we are sending data to Washington, D.C., that the individual data somehow will get to the federal government on our students, and I want to make sure that that does not happen," Goedde said. "I'm confident once the bill gets drafted and we don't have any technical problems with it, it will sail through the Legislature."

State Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho, is currently working on a parental rights bill to give parents more control over that information.

But Gifford said the federal government may already have access to the information through data sharing programs such as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. SBAC is an agreement with the federal government to make student data available for research and is linked to Common Core standards.

'Mr. (State Superintendent of Instruction Tom) Luna himself has written a letter we need to protect this information from the federal government," she said. "Well, I'm sorry, sir, but we need to protect this information from you because it's not yours to have."

Gifford said state education officials have told her that if she doesn't like the data sharing, she could choose homeschooling instead. She said she would rather fight within the system, especially since she pays for public schools with her tax dollars.

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