Most NYS school board members oppose inBloom plan

Students listen to a lecture on May 1,

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

A survey of more than 600 school board members across New York found 75 percent oppose the state's plan to provide an outside agency with the names and other records of more than 2 million students.

The survey, conducted by the New York State School Boards Association, reflects a sentiment shared by many local educators and parents who have told state officials at recent public forums that they are concerned about the security of the data, which are to be shared in the coming months with a nonprofit, high-tech company called inBloom.

According to its website, inBloom aims to allow districts to house data in a secure "cloud"-based site, help teachers "more easily tailor" each student's education based on their needs, better inform parents about their child's progress and also save schools money.


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But Karen Lessler, school board president in the Middle Country district, said it's unclear how the information will be used or whether its security is guaranteed. Lessler also is a high school social studies teacher in the Kings Park district.

"The development of children is a process and it's private information," she said. "We as teachers have to maintain privacy even when we are returning grades back to students. So why does the State of New York believe we should expose that on a national level?"

Roslyn school board president Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy is worried about what will happen to the data.

"We don't understand the data mining and its purpose," she said. "And we have no direct relationship with this third party and can't control its use of the data."

But Mike Kealey, a trustee in the Connetquot district, said the fears are overblown. "The state has been collecting this kind of data for 35 to 40 years," he said. "It's a lot of media hype about nothing. If there was a corruption of their data system, they would immediately take the steps to protect it."

Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman defended the plan to release data to inBloom, saying the state agency supports measures meant to increase security. Student data already are shared, including at the district level, with companies hired to do scheduling and printing of report cards.

Student information cannot be shared with third parties "unless those third parties are selected or otherwise authorized by your district to provide services to the educators and families in your district," the department's website said.

The survey results were based on an informal NYSSBA Pulse Poll of school board members conducted this month. The three-question poll drew between 613 and 634 responses, depending on the question. There are about 5,100 school board members statewide in 691 districts, plus 37 BOCES districts.

The School Boards Association said 48 percent of the board members who responded believed more data would allow districts to better customize educational programs and assistance for students.

Adam Gaber, a spokesman for inBloom, said technology is playing an increasingly important role in education. He said his organization agrees with the board members who said the data could allow schools to better serve students.

Liz Dion, president of the Rockville Centre school board, remains skeptical.

"There is always the possibility of leaks," said Dion, who participated in the survey. "And they are asking for an awful lot of data."

The entire idea violates student privacy, said Suzanne Sgueglia, president of the Locust Valley school board.

"Sharing confidential student information without parental knowledge and consent is just not OK," said Sgueglia, a part-time preschool teacher at a private school in Nassau County. "It's a misuse and abuse of the information."

The survey found that 37 percent of respondents did not believe that more data would be useful to school districts, and 15 percent were not sure.

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