Parents' suit aims to stop state's education cloud data plan

Students listen to a lecture on May 1,

Students listen to a lecture on May 1, 2013. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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A struggle over control of public school students' personal records landed in court Wednesday, when a group of parents sued to block state education officials from sharing the information with a private data-storage company.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Albany, said the Department of Education's plan to transfer 2.3 million students' names and other vital records to inBloom, a nonprofit based in Atlanta, violates New York privacy laws.

"If the state's current data collection system is breached, it can be contained to the local district or regional center in which the breach occurred. If inBloom security is breached through inadvertence, negligence or sabotage, the of millions of students will be at risk," states the lawsuit filed by a dozen New York City parents.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who was at Mineola High School for an education forum Wednesday, said he could not comment on pending litigation. But he reassured concerned parents that students' personal data are protected under federal law.

"The data can't be sold by any third party or shared by any third party," King said Wednesday.

Students' personal records, including test scores, disciplinary records, disabilities and other information, are now kept on state computers.

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This fall or winter, state education officials plan to transfer mass data to inBloom, which will store and manage the records for public school students in a computerized "cloud" service.

Some parents, worried about their children's privacy, object to turning over sensitive personal information to a nongovernmental agency.

Pamela Verity of Commack, a mother of three, applauded the dozen New York City parents who filed the lawsuit to prevent the data transfer, including information on about 400,000 students on Long Island.

"I think it's fabulous. I think it's great that those parents got together and did something," she said. "I wish we could mobilize parents on Long Island to do the same."

Verity said she is concerned about a security breach that could potentially hurt her children.

"It's very important that my children's information is not out there for everyone to see," she said. "Security can't be guaranteed. Once it's out on the Internet, it's out there forever. It doesn't go away."

Education officials have said inBloom will provide a high degree of data security through sophisticated encryption and company officials would never release student information without permission from local districts and the state.

New York was one of nine states that had intended to send students' information to inBloom, the lawsuit said. Massachusetts has put its data-storage plan on hold and seven other states have dropped them.

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The cloud storage plan is supported by $100 million from software billionaire Bill Gates' family foundation. The state is spending more than $50 million to develop a sign-on portal and related technology.

Adam Gaber, a spokesman for inBloom, said Wednesday the company cannot comment on the lawsuit.

"Secure, efficient and cost-effective services like inBloom help to enable New York teachers to more easily tailor education to the needs, skill levels and learning pace of each student. Like New York State, we believe technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in supporting teachers, students and families," he said in an email.

In the lawsuit, Jane Lauer Barker of Pitta Giblin in Manhattan, the lead attorney for the New York City parents, said private companies and public agencies using cloud-based hosts had been hacked, including Sony and the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

On Wednesday, a judge denied the parents' request for a temporary restraining order. The parties are scheduled to return to court Dec. 6.

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With Joan Gralla

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