SALEM TOWNSHIP — SAD 58’s Board of Directors unanimously supported parents’ right to not to release their children’s Social Security numbers, although Maine law says the school districts have to ask.

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Angela Faherty has directed all schools to collect student Social Security numbers to study long-term enrollment and achievement, keep more accurate records, and provide more helpful Department of Labor statistics. However, the district’s board did not see the benefits outweighing the risks of sharing such personal information.

“The Board voted that I should send you a letter making it clear that they do not support the collection of these numbers,” Superintendent Quenten Clark’s correspondence to parents states. “As there is no penalty if you choose not to give us your child’s Social Security number, the Board wants it clear that they advise you to refuse to provide that information to us.”

After state-level hearings were held in May, 2009, the bill was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci in June, 2009. State Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, sponsored the bill and is frustrated and baffled by the resistance, because he does not see the law as an invasion of privacy.

Benefits to the state’s educational system far outweigh the risk of the data being released inadvertently, he said.

“A unique identifier is necessary to account for kids who move from one district to another or from state to state. Some teachers and their allies on school boards are hiding behind the MCLU’s specter of identity theft,” Mills said. “Their real motivation is that they don’t want their districts or their students to be measured against those in other systems. No one worries about identity theft when buying gas or groceries with a credit card. Why should we obsess about it in education or health care?”

One of the reasons for success in the modern marketing, Mills said, is the ability to aggregate information and make sense out of it and track success and failure.

“In the medical and education field, we have an even greater need to track success and failure and make improvements as time goes on,” he said. “Within those systems are professionals, who, in some cases, are hostile to the idea of making their results known. We need to be able to track performance.”

The Social Security number is the one unique identifier that tracks into adulthood, he noted, and branches of the military have been using such a system for a long time.

“The cost savings, efficiencies, quality improvement that flows from managing data responsibly and well are huge,” Mills said.

Oxford Hills School District Superintendent Rick Colpitts said officials there have been sending some data to the DOE, but he was not eager to have his school system responsible for gathering and transmitting sensitive data. Although a letter was sent to schools last week offering DOE training, he’s concerned that his district is ultimately responsible “as the middleman.”

“We already have our system to track our student information, but we know there’s always the possibility of being hacked,” he said.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union Public Policy Counsel Alysia Melnick states on their website,  “We fought hard in the Legislature to ensure both that this is an opt-in program (meaning it’s voluntary — students and parents do not have to provide Social Security numbers to public schools even when asked) and that parents be adequately informed of the opt-in nature and the risks of participation.”

The department’s plan to gather long-term data and follow students through pre-school, elementary school and high school and into the work force, is not a new one. The state also received a $7.3 million federal grant to implement the system, DOE spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

“We’ve been talking about this for several years, and the school districts are well aware of it,” he said. “The federal government is moving in this direction and is probably going to require it anyway.”

Connerty-Marin said he testified at legislative hearings and received a very positive response before the law was passed more than a year ago.

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