Metro School Board votes not to share student contact informatio - WSMV News 4

Metro School Board votes not to share student contact information

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The Metro Nashville School Board and the Tennessee Department of Education are at odds over whether or not the district should share student contact information with the Achievement School District.

Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board voted not to hand over student and family contact information to the ASD as the state-run district requested. It's a move that Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen says is illegal.

Metro School Board Member Will Pinkston was one the people who helped start the state-run Achievement School District several years ago. He is now one of its biggest critics.

The ASD takes control of under-performing schools across the state. It operates three charter schools in Nashville.

Pinkston said two of the schools have hundreds of empty seats to fill.

In August, ASD asked the school board to turn over student contact information to them in 30 days. The school board didn't do it, explaining it did not want to help the ASD market itself to public school students.

"The Achievement School District is failing not just academically, but financially, and it desperately needs to fill those seats to maintain its financial position," Pinkston said.

"They essentially want the school system to hand over personal data on our students and families in order to try to recruit those families away from the school system, which would have a negative fiscal impact on the school system and they existing schools," Pinkston added.

Tuesday night, Pinkston led the effort for the Metro School Board to formally vote against sharing student contact information, like phone numbers and addresses, with the ASD.  He said it's a matter of privacy and safety.

"We are living in an era of identity theft, and I think it's incumbent upon the district to do what it can to protect personal contact information of students and families," Pinkston said Wednesday. "Based on everything we know about the ASD, the litany of problems that it's got, I wouldn't trust the ASD to handle any child's data.”

School Board Member Mary Pierce is in staunch disagreement with Pinkston.

"I think our families need to know from us, they need to know their public school options. It's not an option for us to just say we can withhold information," Pierce said in Tuesday's meeting.

She told News 4 she does not believe sharing the information with the ASD poses a security threat. She noted current guidelines and state law already dictate the practice.

"I will absolutely protect student and family information from illegal use. This is not illegal use. This is directory information," Pierce said Tuesday at the school board meeting. "I cannot support going against the state law, but I will really be resentful if I am framed in a way that says I am selling out family's privacy.”

The board ultimately voted against sharing the data.

Commissioner McQueen expressed her disapproval following the vote in the following statement:

We are disappointed MNPS has chosen to adopt a policy that conflicts with state law. T.C.A. § 49-13-132 is clear that districts must release students’ contact information, as allowed under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), to a chartering authority or charter school. The department has sought to proactively collaborate with MNPS and has taken several steps to clarify and establish protections that ensure that student contact information is not misused or shared against the wishes of a parent. We have allowed the district additional time to ensure parents received a second communication about the rights they have always had to opt out, and we have sought additional clarity from the attorney general.

The school board’s vote ultimately represents a decision to limit information to families about their public school options as they make decisions about what is best for their children - especially families who have students in the district’s Priority schools or lowest performing schools.

Pinkston acknowledged the move could lead to "very messy" legal battles and a possible loss of state education funding. He accused the commissioner of "overestimating" her authority.

"We are doing what's best for children, and if that results in adverse consequences from the state then so be it," Pinkston said.

He said it's only the beginning of a conversation on tougher policies on what student contact information is released to any district or agency.

Leaders in Shelby County passed a similar policy restricting student contact information from being released to the ASD, which has taken over a majority of Memphis public schools.

News 4 asked the Department of Education how much money the two school districts stand to lose, while being out of compliance with the law. Sara Gast, the department's communication director said in an emailed statement:

Our first priority is to ensure districts understand there is a risk if they do not come into compliance with state law. Any specifics have not been determined.

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