Parents Grill Department of Education Over Private Student Data Cloud


“I know that you’re just a messenger, so I want to make sure you deliver this message properly to your supervisors,” parent and City Council candidate Jelani Mashariki told the Department of Education’s deputy chief academic officer, Adina Lopatin, at a Borough Hall town hall packed with families Monday night.

Read more: Who Is Stockpiling and Sharing Private Information About New York Students?

“You’re not going to give out my child’s information to a third-party corporation to do whatever it is they want to do,” Makarishi continued over whistles and applause from the audience. “The people are not going to have it and we are going to fight back.”

Several other audience members had similar things to say regarding inBloom Inc., the controversial data-sharing initiative that parents at Monday night’s volatile forum believe violates the privacy and security of their children. The $100 million initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and federal grants, and built by News Corp’s Wireless Generation, is responsible for designing something called an Education Data Portal in order to provide data tools to teachers and families.

As Lopatin later clarified, inBloom’s EDP uses student data–including student demographics, parent contact information, dates of absence, suspensions, and state test scores–through an Amazon cloud-based service. That information is then shared with school-contracted vendors. The DOE maintains that this practice does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and that vendors will not be able to even access the data without the school’s permission, but there’s also no provision for students and families to opt out.

“We live in 2013. Was anyone around last week when the AP was Twitter-hacked?” asked Natasha Capers, a parent and representative from the Alliance for a Quality Education. “It shut down New York City’s Wall Street. We can only imagine what would happen when someone wants this information and knows how to utilize it properly.”

Leonie Haimson, executive director of educational nonprofit Class Size Matters and town hall meeting organizer, had invited representatives from inBloom to attend, but they were not present. Instead, Haimson prepared a list of questions for the DOE’s Lopatin, which she answered one by one.

“Has New York City student data been transmitted to inBloom?” Lopatin read aloud. “Yes, New York State has transmitted student data to inBloom as part of the process of building educational data portals.”

Parents were not happy about that. “We need to let her finish,” Margaret Kelley, education liaison to Brooklyn borough president, told one woman who started interrupting from the back of the room. “If this gets out of hand, I’m going to have to adjourn this forum.”

Lopatin also confirmed that there was no way for parents to provide explicit consent for data-sharing. “According to state guidelines, there is no provision for parents to opt their children out of inBloom or the educational portal tool,” she told the town hall.

Twin bills dealing with inBloom and student data security are working their way through the state Assembly and Senate. Both A06059 and S04284 prohibit “the release of personally identifiable student information where parental consent is not provided.”

“We want to protect the privacy of our children,” Lydia Bellahcene, a mother of five children in the public school system, told last night’s town hall in one of the event’s most impassioned speeches. “It is our God-given right. And I’m not signing that away because I put my daughter in public education.”