LOS ANGELES - As students head back to school next week, parents and the ACLU of Southern California are reaching out to dozens of local school districts with plans to create a clear method to keep students' personal information private.
In a letter sent today to 88 school districts in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, ACLU/SC staff attorney Ranjana Natarajan and Sophie Fanelli, a research fellow, said "We are writing to provide you with information about your obligations under a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, and to offer recommendations to help you protect the privacy rights of your high school students." The letter provides suggestions and a sample form for parents and students.
"School districts should have systems in place to ensure that students' privacy is not compromised," Natarajan said. "Telling students and parents about their privacy rights and their options is an important first step to protecting those rights."
Under the No Child Left Behind, which was made law in 2002, any school district that receives federal funds must turnover personal directory information including students' home address and phone numbers for military recruitment purposes. The law also provides protections for families who do not wish to be contacted by the military, institutions of higher education or both. The law requires schools to give students and parents an opportunity to "opt-out," or decline to have students' information released to the military or institutions of higher education. But many school districts do not have a clear process in place by which to do this.
Sam Coleman, the father of a June graduate from Fountain Valley High School and an eighth grader, learned just how difficult it can be to opt out of the military database. In late 2002 he asked the school district how he could preserve his son's privacy, and in 2003 and 2004 he submitted additional opt-out requests. But during his son's senior year, the District included Ken Coleman's personal information in records given to the military.
"I don't want this to happen to other families," Coleman said. "My son and I had talked and together we decided to ask the school district not to turn over his personal information to the army. When that didn't happen it was very difficult to fix it, and for all I know his information could be floating around in any number of data bases. If there's a policy in place this won't happen to other parents and their children."
Coleman said that despite making efforts to keep his son's information protected, a simple mistake led to several calls and near daily military mailings. He said other parents report unwanted home visits, strong arm tactics and dozens of calls from recruiters.
A sample opt-out form can be found at www.aclusocal.org/News/.