Social media student data bill gets the go-ahead

Social media student data bill gets the go-ahead

(Calif.) A bill that would impose restrictions on how school districts handle information gathered from students' social media accounts moved with bipartisan support out of the Assembly Education Committee Wednesday afternoon.

A second student data-related bill, AB 2341, which would require schools and the state to identify and track pupils from military families was also passed by the committee.

AB 1442, according to author Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, “sets reasonable standards for privacy” by requiring that parents be notified when data on their child is to be collected and by limiting what information may be gathered to that which is both posted by the student and publicly available.

“School districts, which are an arm of government, have noble intentions – they’re trying to identify bullying, prevent teen suicide and prevent school violence – but they’re using tax-payer dollars to collect social media information from students and others,” Gatto told members of the education committee, “and the data collected ranges from statements of opinions – First Amendment-protected opinions – and also personal photos and videos posted by teens online.”

Gatto proposed the legislation after a southern California school district last fall hired a data-mining company to monitor students’ public posts on social media – an effort, the district said, to detect warning signs that a student may be suicidal or planning an attack against classmates or school personnel.

While Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s AB 1442 doesn’t address the issue of schools monitoring their pupil’s online activities, it does take aim at how districts handle the student information they do collect.

The bill seeks to expand the definition of “agency” in the Information Practices Act of 1977 to include local governmental entities – such as school districts. It also gives students the right to see what information of theirs has been collected, and requires local educational agencies to destroy a pupil’s data when he or she turns 18 or graduates, whichever takes place later.

Supporters of AB 2341, authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, argue that children in military families experience unique events that impact their education, and schools need to know who these kids are and what the impact is in order to address the issues.

“Military members and their families face significant challenges and make numerous sacrifices when they are called to serve our country here or abroad,” Quirk-Silva told the education panel Wednesday. “Currently, there is no method of tracking their attendance and progress to evaluate programs and identify best practices [for them].”

The legislation would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the California Department of Education to add by July 1, 2015, an indicator to the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) to identify pupils of military families.

Supporters say that collecting this information would build awareness at the school and classroom level of students that may be affected by the deployment of a parent and facilitate data-driven decision-making to improve the distribution of Department of Defense and local resources to offer appropriate support.

More than that, though, said Assemblyman Rocky Chavez – an Oceanside Republican who sits not only on the Assembly education panel but also on its Committee on Veterans Affairs – collecting data on military children in order to help them succeed would show the Department of Defense that the state cares about its military installments and personnel.

California lost 21 military bases, 82,000 military personnel and more than half a million civilian jobs in a Department of Defense realignment in the 1990s, said Chavez, himself a former Marine Corps colonel. Military bases in the state are being eyed again as the DOD once again looks to downsize.

“One of the number one things that the Department of Defense is looking at in California is how we support our military families,” Chavez told his colleagues in urging them to support AB 2341. “This identifier is critical to a message to the DOD that California cares about military families and their dependents and will impact the ability of the bases to remain in California.

“This is much more beyond just an educational issue of reporting,” he added. “We’re talking about billions of dollars of jobs in the community.”

The legislation defines a student of a military family to mean one whose parents or legal guardian is an active duty member of the armed forces of the United States, said the author, and specifically clarifies that enrollment data collected will not be used to gather reports currently outlined under the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

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