At its meeting last week, the local Board of Education reviewed possible new language about what the Santa Monica-Malibu school district should do after a potential digital security breach.

But what started as a relatively straightforward agenda item turned into a conversation regarding stakeholders’ worries about student data security and digital privacy.

The proposed language about district records, which was discussed but not formally approved by the school board, aligns the SMMUSD policy with a recommendation from the California School Boards Association.

The board’s discussion about recordkeeping came as the district uses money from Measure ES to fund technological improvements across the district. The $385-million bond was approved by voters in 2012.

The discussion touched on fears expressed by parents and members of the public about the accessibility of student data. Privacy advocates have questioned school districts and government agencies about their digital security practices.

“There’s great concern in the community,” board member Ralph Mechur said.

In a statement earlier this month, Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, reiterated his commitment to student privacy following a court ruling in a case filed against the state education department by concerned parent groups. The plaintiffs have sought the release of student data by the state because they believe some agencies have not complied with laws regarding special education.

“Our district was not involved in the lawsuit and is not the subject of any of the suit’s allegations,” reads a statement issued to SMMUSD stakeholders this month. “Nonetheless, as a part of this lawsuit, [the California Department of Education] has been ordered by the court to release all data it has collected on general and special education students since Jan. 1, 2008.”

Parents and students can object to the disclosure of personally identifiable information by April 1, according to Torlakson’s statement.

School board member Oscar de la Torre wondered if the district has clarified its opt-out policies when disclosure issues arise. Mark Kelly, the SMMUSD assistant superintendent of human resources, said a handbook sent annually to parents tells them what information the district retains.

“We expect the district to ensure the protection of our children,” privacy advocate Ann Maggio Thanawalla wrote in a recent letter to Evan Bartelheim, the district’s assessment and research director.

The proposed changes to policy regarding district records are scheduled to be up for board approval at the March 3 meeting.

“In the event of any known or reasonably suspected breach of the security of district records containing confidential personal information including, but not limited to, a social security number, driver’s license or identification card number, medical information, health insurance information, or an account number in combination with an access code or password that would permit access to a financial account, the Superintendent or designee shall immediately notify local law enforcement agencies and any affected persons,” the proposed section reads. “Notification of affected individuals may be delayed if a law enforcement agency determines that the notification would impede a criminal investigation.”

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