Few developments in education lawsuit since data release order, state DOE spokesman says

By Karen Kidd | Apr 28, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Not much has happened in a five-year-old education lawsuit since a federal court ruling ordering 10 million California students' personal data be released and a deadline to opt out of that release has passed, a state education spokesman said.

"There is not a whole lot of new information," California Department of Education Information Officer Peter Tira said in an email to Northern California Record. "The next court date in the case is May 11. It’s a status conference on the discovery process before the magistrate judge (not the presiding judge) who oversees discovery matters. This suit was first filed in 2011 and is still in the discovery process five years later."

In late January, Judge Kimberly Mueller of the U.S. District Court for California's Eastern District ordered state officials to release personal student data stored in Education Department databases. That data would include everything stored on those databases about those students, including their test scores, grades, disabled students' specialized education plans and the students' personal information, including names, Social Security numbers, addresses and health records.

Under Mueller's order, only the plaintiff's side of the case may view the data, after which it must be destroyed or returned when the lawsuit ends. The order also made California parents nervous, many of whom met an April 1 deadline to opt their child’s information out of being released. Objections included concerns that the data release could be vulnerable to hackers.

The case, Morgan Hill Concerned Parents v. California Department of Education, was filed in 2011 by two parent groups of parents in Morgan Hill, the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association and the Concerned Parents Association. The lawsuit alleges the state of California fails to provide free and appropriate education to special needs children. That, the lawsuit claims, violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act .

The two parent groups want the student data to determine whether California schools violate the act and, if they do, to what extent.

An additional order, issued March 1, scaled back the data release but didn't stop it.

A press release issued by the California Department of Education sought to reassurance parents about the data release.

 "In response to the objections, the court ordered that the CDE maintain custody of the most sensitive of its databases, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), while running searches for information requested by the plaintiffs," the press release said. "The court also reiterated that no student personally identifiable information may be released to the plaintiffs unless and until they demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that the method to be used to store the sensitive student data is secure. The parties are still litigating the extent of the disclosure of student data."

Mueller also set the April 1 deadline for parents or former students to mail objection letters to the court.

"The court is not actually reading the letters – there are too many to read, but considering them collectively as concern about any disclosure of personally identifiable student data" Tira told the Northern California Record. "At this point, the California Department of Education has not provided any personally identifiable student data and there are no immediate plans or requirements to provide any personally identifiable student data."

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State of California Department of Education U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California

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