‘Novel’ Student Data Bill Goes to Oklahoma Governor

Published May 27, 2013

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a student privacy bill Oklahoma lawmakers passed by large margins in July. Its state-level protections are the first of their kind in the nation, said John Kraman, executive director of student information at the Oklahoma Department of Education, and may provide a model for other states as privacy concerns rise.

House Bill 1989 passed the House 88-2 on May 16 and the Senate 41-0 on May 22.

“There are a lot of states that have [data] governance and transparency, but we’re creating a novel way we think is stronger than any state has to make sure there is no chance for someone to be in the dark about what we’re doing,” Kraman said. “And if the public disagrees with what we’re doing, they have a chance to say no. This really pushes the boundaries of data privacy.”

HB 1989 requires the state Board of Education to inventory and publicly post what student-specific data the state collects, create a detailed data security plan and student privacy policies, and send no student-specific information outside the state except for specific circumstances such as out-of-state student transfers or contracts with testing companies. And it requires the board to get legislative approval for any new data it wants to collect.

Lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, and Oregon have proposed similar legislation this year after a broad public outcry sparked by revelations eight states have transferred student information, including even Social Security numbers and hobbies, to private databases without public knowledge or consent.

Automatic Inclusion
One of the best parts of the bill is that it prevents the state from folding criminal, biometric, and health records into school files, said Jenni White, cofounder of Restore Oklahoma Public Education. But it’s not perfect, she said, because, “Nothing in the act really protects children from excessive data collection. It just prevents it from going across state lines.”

HB 1989 also automatically opts all students into data collecting, instead of requiring parent consent beforehand.

“Some districts have told parents they can’t opt out,” White noted.

The bill also ties compliance to a federal privacy law that recent regulations have gutted by allowing any government agency to share student information without parents’ knowledge or consent. White would prefer requiring compliance with state law, which is stronger.

Under current open-records laws, private organizations or individuals can receive much information about students, Kraman said. The bill “gives us leverage over the people who are currently trolling for data” by giving the board discretion to limit student information it releases under such requests, he said.

“There are lots of things we do need to know,” he said. “HB 1989 requires us to be really clear about who gets what for what purpose. So think, ‘What do I need to know to evaluate the effectiveness of a program? What is sufficient but not more than what is necessary to do that work?'” 


Image by the 7th US Fleet.