Concerns about the ever-growing number of third-party technologies used in schools to manage everything from grades to attendance to building security drove state lawmakers last month to amend the part of state education law which regulates student privacy and data.
Local districts, including Saugerties, now have until July 1 to establish a contractual agreement protecting student data with each third-party technology — any website or app that requires the input of any personal student data, including birthdays, photographs, email addresses, attendance records, class schedules, participation in any sports activities or even initials — used in the classroom, to exhaustively enumerate each technology used in the classroom and to draft a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” that will be posted on the school district’s website and signed by each contractor handling student data.
After surveying each teacher in the district, Saugerties schools Human Resources Director Dan Erceg said, about 90 technologies have been identified thus far.
“We have to look for alternatives, be creative,” said Erceg. “I know there’s a couple [teachers] that do heavily rely on some of these resources that they’ve used for a couple years, and now they need to change the way they do if they can’t get an agreement signed … Our teachers are good about adapting and doing the best they can for our kids.”
“How the Market Works,” an online service that allows students to purchase imaginary stocks that has been used for a number of years in Saugerties high social studies classes, is one service that, as of now, has not responded to the school’s requests to sign a contract guaranteeing the security of student information, Erceg said. G Suite, which includes Google Documents, Google Sheets and other Google programs, has already been signed and approved, Erceg said. By the July deadline, each approved sites and services will be listed, along with an explanation of how the data those technologies will be used and stored.
Private student information was held for ransom in the Lansing, Mineola, Rockville Centre, Syracuse and Watertown school districts between July and August of last year, according to the New York State School Boards Association. One district, Rockville Centre, paid $88,000 in Bitcoin to hackers to get its data back, the association said.
“We are in a pretty good spot, if we were to have a cyber attack against us or someone were to try to steal our data,” said Erceg. “Right now, the vast majority of our information is not stored on campus, which makes us safer because of the third party agreements.”
Parents’ rights to their children’s private information will also be detailed in Saugerties’ Parent’s Bill of Rights. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, parents are entitled to copies of their students’ education records within 45 days; parents can also request amendments to those educational records if they feel that information is inaccurate or misleading. The school must receive written consent from parents to share their children’s personal information, unless the exchange takes place between Saugerties High employees with “legitimate educational interests.” Parents also have a right to remove their children from any school directory.
More AP courses
Saugerties High School intends to add two new courses, AP Music Theory and Computer Science II, to their curricula in the 2020-21 school year, school board trustees were told at the Feb. 11 meeting.
Erceg told trustees that the popularity of the school’s computer science course, which was just introduced this year and is taught by Jen Saur, led to the addition of the follow-up course, which will be taught by math teacher Michele Milgrim.
In order to offer an Advanced Placement class at their high school, which mimics the rigor of a college course and gives students an opportunity to garner college credit, the prospective teacher must submit an “AP course audit” including their planned syllabus and course outline to the College Board Advanced Placement Program and take a course hosted by the body.
According to the College Board’s description of the music course, students will learn sight singing, basic music terminology, and concepts while listening to and playing a wide variety of music — the ultimate goal is to “make [the students] better listeners, composers and performers.”
Change in schedule
Class periods at the high school will be shortened from 45 to 41 minutes in the coming school year to accommodate a new eight-period schedule, Erceg said. Students will have to hustle a little faster moving from classroom to classroom, though, as passing times between classes will also be shortened from four to three minutes. The shift from seven to eight academic periods was, Erceg said, enacted to give students more opportunities to amass the credits they need to graduate and to ensure that each student has a lunch period.
“We’re hoping that this will give our students more opportunities throughout the day to take classes and complete their credit requirements. Currently, students have seven periods — one of those periods can be lunch, where students may opt not to have a formal lunch,” said Erceg. “The state came out and required 998 hours of instruction in a school year. To meet that and also we realized that we wanted to give our students as many opportunities as possible to take high-level and Advanced Placement courses.”