Two Moms Against Common Core

Friday, April 27, 2012

Dear Editor,

It is well known that I've been actively trying to inform the public about concerns others and I have in relationship to the Common Core Initiative.  After presenting to the School Board in March I let them know that I would become a more active participate in what is going on in our local public school system by attending the School Board Meetings regularly.

It is for this reason that I found myself sitting in attendance at our local school board meeting last week on April 19th.  I had not had the opportunity to peruse the agenda prior to the meeting so I was in shock when I looked down at the agenda to see FERPA revision listed.

You see FERPA is Utah’s privacy law.  And when Renee and I presented our concerns about Common Core we let the school board know that we were also concerned about the collection of individual, identifiable data that would be tracked for “research”.  We asked them NOT to change any FERPA laws.  Now I understand that we are just two individuals and we certainly do not run the board but we wanted the board to know that this was a big concern for us.  

I don’t claim to be all knowing but I am actively researching and, as I understand, the National FERPA law is much looser than the UTAH FERPA law so school boards across the state are revising our FERPA laws, not to protect our children, but to give the Federal agency more access to our children’s data.  You may be thinking we always have collected data but it has never been individual, identifiable data before. 

When this action item came up at the meeting the school board very vaguely discussed this issue.  They just said they were adding #8 and #9 to the current FERPA law.  Someone suggested that they put it up for a 30-day review and that was quickly done away with and it was decided right then and there to vote on the revision.  The revision was unanimously passed and they moved on the next item.  The school board then spent 20 minutes asking about a sheet that would have fees on it for school sports for the High School.

I asked for a copy of the revision and the district kindly obliged.  They were adding ways in which “personally identifiable information” can be released “without the prior written consent of the parent” to “certain designated government or educational authorities” and “to organizations conducting studies for specific purposes on behalf of schools” among other things. 

As a citizen and parent I want to protect children in anyway I can.  I see this as a gross violation of my rights as a parent and feel the board should have put this up for public review. 

Alisa Ellis

I spoke with the Superintendent the Monday following this meeting. I asked if he could explain what happened and why they would pass that policy revision without so much as a second thought.  The least they could have done was put it up for public review.  I told him that we had warned him specifically the month before that the FERPA policy would be coming up for review.  

I demanded he tell me who the directive to make such a revision came from.  He told me that they just decided to review the policy.  I told him I find it hard to believe that it just happens to be a coincidence that our district and others around the state just happen to be revising our FERPA policy around the same time.  I once again asked him to tell me who is sending out the directive.  He told me that he goes to so many different meetings it's hard to sort them all out.

He told me they had no choice.  I said then why did it go before a vote.  He said they had to be in compliance.  I again asked why it went before a vote and that in my mind anytime something goes to vote you DO have a choice.  You can choose to stand for something.  I told him to stop thinking I'm here to fight him.  I want to help him.  This is the second time he's told me that he has no choice but to do what he's told.  I said I don't have to use your name but I want to help you so that I never have to hear you say I had to do it.  I want to help you so that you can say no.  You can have a choice.  You can make a decision at the local level because it's in the best interest of our local district.  I want to help you but you are making it difficult.  

He gave me the name of Vicky Gappemeyer.  I asked if she would be able to help me sort out who sent out the directive.  He quickly stuttered that he had actually given her the directive.  He then told me that I don't need to know where the directive came from "all I needed to know if that it needed to be changed to reflect what we had to do."

I closed the conversation by letting him know that I had never been outspoken in my life but that I feel an urgency to do so now and that I fear he's made a great mistake.

Here is the letter that he submitted to our local paper after that:

To Obey, or Not to Obey

Editor: A few citizens have outlined concerns about how a revision to Wasatch School Board’s Policy on Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act could be done so quickly in the Board meeting held April 19, 2012. The citizens were concerned that these changes were made without public input in the meeting and/or without a 30 day review period to let citizens comment. Let me explain how this could be done in a School Board Meeting.

In the meeting on April 19, 2012, the Board discussed an agenda action item entitled, “Revision-FERPA policy”. The discussion was short and centered on the changes proposed and whether there was a need for a 30 day review period. The Board made the decision to not have a 30 day review period for public comment because the revision items on the policy that needed updating to Federal FERPA (34 CFR Part 99) statute, and USOE Board Rule (R277-487-4). Board members knew that these, and all policies that are brought to them are reviewed by our attorneys for compliance to law before they are finalized.

After the meeting, a citizen approached the Board and was upset that the policy would not go out for further review. She also expressed her disappointment that the Board was not representing her concerns about federal control of public education. Board members assured her that the School District is very conscientious about protecting children’s privacy rights, and the Board intends to follow state and federal rules and laws.

Choosing to not agree with these citizens does not mean that the Wasatch Board of Education was deliberately hiding facts. It does not mean that the Board of Education is pushing an agenda that encourages federal involvement with public education. Nor does it mean that we should provide for a 30 day public review for every policy, particularly when no such review can alter the fact that we must comply.

Concerns about Federal FERPA statutes should be handled by Federal officials and our elected U.S. Congressional representatives and senators. Only they have the power to make a difference with federal laws.

Wasatch County School District is subject to federal and state laws. We must be in compliance with them. Not only is a significant amount of federal and state funding at risk if we choose not to comply, but in some cases, other serious ramifications might also occur. It was the intent to be in compliance with federal and state regulations that these revisions were adopted by the Board

Supt. Terry Shoemaker

Wasatch County School District

Read more:The Wasatch Wave - Letters

I wasn't the citizen that approached after the meeting but that was a friend of mine.  

I would like the Superintendent to explain what serious ramifications we might face.  I have been busily researching this FERPA law and will continue to do so.  

Today I talked with Carol Lear who is the lawyer for the USOE.  Unbelievable!!!   She said she is "baffled" that all of the districts are changing their policies.  She started our conversation telling me that we don't have a State FERPA law.  I questioned her on that and she didn't really answer but told me that the Utah FERPA law and the portion they are changing to match the National FERPA law are talking about two different things.  

I conferred with someone I trust and she said it is correct that they are two separate parts of the FERPA law.  The portion being revised by the districts is to release data and the Utah state FERPA is to protect the collection of data.  One has to wonder if they required that we send data will they then come along and require that we collect the data? 

She told me that the ED dept. had every right to change the FERPA law.  I told her that from my understanding they didn't change the law they changed their regulation by circumventing Congress.  She said that happens in all different agencies.  I told her that yes indeed there is a lot of corruption in the Government and we must put a stop to it.  She told me that even Homeland Security changes their laws without going through the proper channels.  I'm not sure what she was trying to do there but I reiterated that yes there is a lot of corruption that needs to be taken care of.  

She told me that I didn't need to "fear".  All I need to do is write my district a letter and demand that they do not release my children's data.  I explained to her that I do not live in fear.  I told her boldly that I am gathering information to increase my knowledge and the more knowledge I gain the more power I have because I am informed.  I do not fear I told her.  I have the responsibility to increase my knowledge so that I can inform other parents of what is going on so that they too can increase their knowledge and stay informed.

She again told me she was baffled and doesn't understand all of the misinformation going around or what the parents are worried about.  I said I will tell her why.  We are not misinformed.  I told her that if she would read the cooperative agreement she would see that we are bound to collect data and triangulate that data across consortia.  I told her that as part of the Recovery act our state had to create a longitudinal database.  I told her that whenever we accept Federal Funds they like to tell us what to do with that money and they set the rules.  

I didn't let her talk anymore but told her that although I respect her interpretation of the law I was going to seek other advice from other lawyers so that I can be armed with as much information as I can.  I thanked her again for helping me to gather as much information as I could so that I could inform other parents.  I told her I may be calling if I needed more information.

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