OXFORD – Oxford Hills School District Superintendent Rick Colpitts said this week that he will comply with a new state law requiring schools to collect students' Social Security numbers, but with reservations.
“We'll do what the law says, but I'm worried about the law,” Colpitts told the Board of Directors at its Monday night meeting.
The request for Social Security numbers, which will be entered into the school district and state's Infinite Campus program, is being made to link data among agencies and institutions, according to Angela Faherty, commissioner of education, in a letter to superintendent and directors across the state. The request is voluntary.
Under the law, parents will be asked to report their child's Social Security number which will allow the state to look at a student's educational history, job placement, employment and other items the state uses to measure success of a school district over a long period of time. The information will provide school officials with the tools to evaluate and improve educational programs or to conduct research to improve education services.
In a letter to Rep. James Hamper of R-Oxford, Colpitts called the tracking system “invasive” in that it can provide a key to other private information if there was a breach in security.
“As a superintendent, I will implement the law as required by statute,” Colpitts wrote in an Aug. 30 letter to Hamper. “I will not encourage parents or discourage them from providing Social Security information. I will provide parents with the required consent form and believe they are best able to make decisions about their child. However, I have concerns about the school district's role in the data collection process...”
Colpitts said that in addition to the security risk, significant state and local fund cutbacks over the past two years have already put a strain on the technology department's work. Colpitts also said that he questions the value of a partial sample tracking system, when weighed against the personal risks to students.
Colpitts further said that the Department of Education has given no direction about what happens to the Social Security numbers when a student transfers or graduates. He said he believes the Department of Education, or others involved in the process, has given no sense of how they will protect the information.
Michael Dunn, technology director for the Oxford Hills School District, showed the Board of Directors how the process will work.
“We are fulfilling that request in the most secure way we know possible,” he said.
The numbers are put into the system by the school secretary and the paper is immediately shredded. Within the school, only technology department employees have access to the numbers after they have been entered into the system.
The district conferred with its legal counsel, Drummond Woodsum of Portland, who advised school officials to put the line for the Social Security number at the very end of the letter to parents, so that only that section can be torn off and shredded, leaving the district with the parent's permission or lack of permission for the number on record.
Because the letters asking for Social Security numbers have already been distributed, Colpitts said that will take place with all future letters.
Several school board members have publicly questioned the wisdom of the move to collect Social Security numbers.
“I really don't like this at all,” Director Elizabeth Swift of Hebron said.