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Lawmakers Looking At How Public Schools Handle Private Data

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NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers are being urged to pass tougher laws to protect student data privacy. On Tuesday, they heard stories from parents who say they have no way to protect their kids’ information.

Ann Turner has two children enrolled in Chicago Public Schools. She says last November, her 11-year-old son was required to take an online survey — giving his name, student ID, and his experience of gossip, aggression and bullying.

“As a result of this survey — without parent consent — our school now has a behavioral profile of each student that could follow them all the way through their CPS tenure,” Turner told legislators.

Turner and other parents and activists told members of the Illinois House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, & IT Committee that the state needs more transparency around student data.

Cassie Creswell is with the group Raise Your Hand Action, which is backing legislation that would make schools provide parents with more information about data collection. Parents would also be allowed to demand corrections — or destruction — of records held by third parties, as long as it didn't violate other school records laws.

Creswell says information about kids is being shared with third-party software companies as early as preschool.

“Families who inform schools that they’re not willing to have their child’s data harvested via apps and software have been told there’s no alternative way to receive instruction. And they’ve even been told things like, ‘You should consider private school or home-schooling if you don’t want to have this information shared,’” Creswell told lawmakers.

A group representing school officials says state and federal law already protects student privacy. It says it’d be better for lawmakers to refine existing laws than to create new ones.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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