Letter: Preserving security of student data

I commend The Advocate for helping to raise public awareness of the importance of maintaining the privacy of data regarding our Louisiana public-school students, per the recent article dated July 10.

Throughout Louisiana, school districts electronically store and use student data, such as age, gender and physical address, in order to schedule bus routes and classes, plan courses and make sure that students meet graduation requirements, along with many other tasks that are necessary to operate successful schools. However, with the positive aspects of technology also come concerns and responsibilities regarding security and privacy, and rightfully so.

However, The Advocate article on student data may have created the impression there is disagreement between parents, community members, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Department of Education on this issue. Far from it, BESE and the Department of Education agree with those who have expressed concerns: This is a very critical issue.

That’s why we’re taking the lead and doing something about it — to ensure that technology is a tool to support districts and benefit students, but not at the expense of student privacy or related parent and community concerns.

In light of this article on student data and privacy concerns, I would like to clarify the facts regarding the technology that the Department of Education and local districts are using and any plans to upgrade those systems. BESE and the Department of Education are committed to transparency and security when it comes to student information, as every school board in the state should be.

We heard public feedback regarding uploading data into private databases and, as a result, removed data from that partnership. The Department of Education also gave a clear, transparent presentation to BESE at our June meeting on the Department of Education’s use of data and the security measures taken to protect the privacy of our students. A video of that presentation can be accessed through the BESE website.

In response to this discussion, BESE is forming an advisory group of Louisiana experts to guide BESE on how to validate that both district and state practices are strong and to provide the public with the confidence that their children’s privacy is our utmost concern.

The meetings, reports and recommendations from that advisory group will all be open to the public, as will BESE’s and the Department of Education’s actions that are taken to implement those recommendations.

James D. Garvey Jr., vice president

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education