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More Than 100 National and State Leaders Call on Congress to End Children’s Private Data Collection

FRANCE : PRIMARY SCHOOL CLASS Reportage in Les Hélices Vertes primary school in Cerny, France. Year 5, year 6 multi-level class. AMELIE-BENOIST / BSIP
AMELIE-BENOIST / BSIP/AFP

A coalition of leaders of more than 100 organizations — both nationally and in 31 states — is calling on Congress to rewrite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and to recognize the government has no right to or role in children’s private data collection.

“General education and labor databases should not be collecting and storing sensitive, subjective social, emotional, psychological and behavioral data,” said Dr. Karen Effrem, a pediatrician and President of Education Liberty Watch in a press statement.

Effrem added:

Psychological data related to behavioral, mental health, or special education concerns should be gathered after informed consent and treated with the same care and confidentiality as medical data, with appropriate sharing with law enforcement as needed under current statutes. If this had been done in the Parkland situation, that horrific tragedy could have been avoided.

Led by the D.C.-based American Principles Project (APP), the leaders sent a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee. The letter expresses the concern that even more data-sharing is possibly being encouraged following the Parkland shooting:

In the wake of the Florida school shooting, the White House has encouraged a review of FERPA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Unfortunately, the context of this statement suggests the goal of enhancing data-sharing in the sensitive area of student mental health: “reviews will determine if any changes or clarifications are needed to improve coordination between mental health and other healthcare professionals, school officials, and law enforcement personnel.” We caution that such increased “coordination” in sharing such student data can be extraordinarily dangerous.

“[I]t is crucial to recognize that if the legal and mental-health procedures already in place had been properly followed – and if the local school had not gutted its disciplinary procedures in response, at least in part, to federal pressure – this horrific crime would not have happened,” the leaders continue. “The solution is to enforce laws and implement policies already on the books, not subject vast numbers of innocent students to further invasion of privacy.”

The leaders make five recommendations for the revision of FERPA:

  1. Do whatever is possible to decrease the amount of data collected on students, especially social-emotional learning (SEL) data. Collection of such data should be eliminated or at the very least a) not collected without informed opt-in parental consent and b) be treated as medical data.

  2. Treat whatever mental health, social emotional, or behavioral data collected for special-education evaluations or any other related program, such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), as medical data that cannot be housed in longitudinal databases.

  3. Use aggregate rather than individual data to the greatest extent possible.

  4. Obtain parental consent if data collected for one purpose is to be repurposed or shared with another federal agency.

  5. Eliminate the current language in FERPA allowing predictive testing.

“Personal data collection without consent is an affront to freedom,” said Emmett McGroarty, APP senior fellow and co-author of the new book, Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. “The federal government has no right or authority to vacuum up mountains of personal data on its citizens without their consent, with only the vague intent to ‘help’ them or others make decisions. This is especially true for children.”

In addition to APP and Education Liberty Watch, signers of the letter include Tabitha Walter of the Eagle Forum, Shane Vander Hart of Truth in American Education, and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas.

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