This week, the American Principles Project, Education Liberty Watch, and Eagle Forum, along with leaders from more than 100 organizations both nationally and in 31 states, called on Congress to rewrite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee, these organizations strongly urged Congress to protect the property interest that citizens have in their personal data and to recognize that it is not the role or right of government to probe a child’s most personal and sensitive attributes.
Emmett McGroarty, senior fellow at American Principles Project and co-author of the new book, Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty, stated:
Personal data collection without consent is an affront to freedom. The federal government has no right or authority to vacuum up mountains of personal data on its citizens without their consent, with only the vague intent to “help” them or others make decisions. This is especially true for children.
General education and labor databases should not be collecting and storing sensitive, subjective social, emotional, psychological and behavioral data. Psychological data related to behavioral, mental health, or special education concerns should be gathered after informed consent and treated with the same care and confidentiality as medical data, with appropriate sharing with law enforcement as needed under current statutes. If this had been done in the Parkland situation, that horrific tragedy could have been avoided.
The letter contained five recommendations for the FERPA rewrite:
- Do whatever is possible to decrease the amount of data collected on students, especially social-emotional learning (SEL) data. Collection of such data should be eliminated or at the very least a) not collected without informed opt-in parental consent and b) be treated as medical data.
- Treat whatever mental health, social emotional, or behavioral data collected for special-education evaluations or any other related program, such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), as medical data that cannot be housed in longitudinal databases.
- Use aggregate rather than individual data to the greatest extent possible.
- Obtain parental consent if data collected for one purpose is to be repurposed or shared with another federal agency.
- Eliminate the current language in FERPA allowing predictive testing.
It is incredibly important to fix FERPA and protect student data and psychological privacy, as has been illustrated by multiple recent episodes:
- The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal is affecting students and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is testing and planning to manipulate the same personality traits in students involved in the Facebook dust-up.
- The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development is pushing for social emotional learning (SEL) to be involved in school safety issues, which will not help.
- Mental screening programs with all of their subjectivity and inaccuracy are starting to pop up all over the country, such as those we discussed in Texas.
- Efforts to increase data sharing with corporations, researchers and among federal agencies without consent in Congress through the Foundations for Evidence-based Policy Making Act and the College Transparency Act are also being pushed by the data grabbers.
Here is the link to the full letter. Please use it to contact your members of Congress so that we may protect the privacy and minds of our children and our freedoms as Americans.