OXFORD — A move by the state to collect students’ Social Security numbers when schools reopen this month could provide long-term achievement data, but local officials concede there is a risk in putting the numbers into databases.

“Nothing is absolutely secure,” said Mike Dunn, technology director for the Oxford Hills School District. “You can buy Social Security numbers for very little money. It’s illegal but that doesn’t stop people from doing it.”

The request for Social Security numbers, which will be entered into the school district and state’s Infinite Campus program, is being made in order to link data among agencies and institutions, according to Angela Faherty, acting commissioner of education in an Aug. 10 letter to superintendents and directors across the state.

Providing the numbers is voluntary.

Under the 2009 law, Chapter 448, an Act to Improve the Ability of the Department of Education to Conduct Longitudinal Data Studies, 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.

“Ultimately it has enormous potential to help schools improve their performance. But it won’t happen if only a very few parents will provide their Social Security numbers,” Dunn said.

While the Social Security numbers will all end up in the state’s Infinite Campus program, each school district must enter the data into their own system that will link with the state’s program. Students already have state identification numbers entered in the system, but the Social Security number is the only fool-proof method of tracking a student throughout his or her life, Dunn said.

The Infinite Campus program, which is owned by a company in Blaine, Minn., provides software to school districts across the nation that enables linkage of information. Parents only have access to some of the confidential information on their child’s page such as attendance, grades and class assignments.

But Oxford Hills School District officials say they have taken their program a step further to reduce the risk for unauthorized access to student and staff information.

“We’ve taken the rights away from everyone,” said school technology support employee Sam Iggulden of those who can access the Social Security numbers. Only he and Dunn will have access to the numbers.

The paper form, which will be distributed to parents with their opening day packet, will be received by each building secretary. The secretary will enter the data and then shred the paper.

The number is then linked automatically to the state’s Infinite Campus program and local officials have no authority over who will handle the numbers at the state level. Other than Dunn and Iggulden, the pair said only the technicians from Infinite Campus who are at the school several times a week tweaking the program can see the numbers or other student information in the system.

Dunn and Iggulden believe their system, which is a refinement of the Infinite Campus program, is probably more secure than other school districts in Maine.

Iggulden said he believes that the more parents who allow their students numbers to be entered into their system the less likely it is for a security breach.

“There’s safety in numbers. It’s a school district, not a bank,” Iggulden said. Staff members have provided their Social Security numbers to the district for a number of years and last year those numbers were linked to the state’s Infinite Campus database.

While Superintendent Rick Colpitts has expressed satisfaction in the security of the district program, he acknowledged concern from Elizabeth Swift, a member of the Oxford Hills School District Board of Directors, at Monday night’s board meeting. Colpitts has assured the board there will be further discussion about the matter, if needed.

Parents will receive a detailed letter informing them about the new procedure. Family members must be apprised through the annual Family Education Rights and Privacy Act about the use of a student’s Social Security number.

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