Brookfield officials inadvertently shared student information

BROOKFIELD — School officials this week acknowledged a failure to properly dispose of personally identifiable information related to students receiving special education services from the school district.

According to emails obtained by The News-Times, the parents accused the district of violating privacy protections under the US Education Rights and Confidentiality Act, or FERPA, and said they reported the problem to the state Department of Education. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed receipt of the complaints, but said there was no investigation into the matter because the matter falls under federal jurisdiction.

The names of special education students, as well as the number of hours they receive special education services, among other information, were visible in documents emailed to parents who had requested information about their children under FERPA.

According to an email obtained by the News-Times, Amy DeNicola-Hickman, director of Brookfield Schools Special Services, wrote to parents on Oct. 26, “self-revealing an error that occurred with a FERPA application.”

“Your child’s name was inadvertently shared with a parent who requested records. In good faith, we are reviewing these records to ensure they have been redacted. Unfortunately, this page was written with a blackout pen, but parent was able to see through the marks when printed at home,” the post read.

“As this is within my jurisdiction,” DeNicola-Hickman added, “I would like to apologize that your child’s name was shared in the document. The document is attached for your review. It consists of a list of names, times for services… and attendance. I will work to ensure that the documents are fully redacted in the future.”

Speaking to a reporter this week with Superintendent John Barile, DeNicola-Hickman acknowledged “self-disclosure,” but also refuted the notion that any FERPA violations actually happened.

“We only released names and surnames, there was no confidential information, and in fact the teacher, staff member that was listed, wasn’t even on that piece of paper. “, she said.

Privacy issues

The U.S. Department of Education says schools can “disclose, without consent, ‘directory’ information, such as a child’s name, address, phone number, date and place of birth. student, distinctions and awards and dates of attendance”. But parents and eligible students must be informed and given a “reasonable time” to ask the school not to disclose this information.

“I think legally there’s a question of whether or not it’s (a violation of FERPA), it doesn’t matter, where Amy is from, it’s not best practice to … send the names of students, so we’ve updated some internal processes,” Barille said.

Under FERPA, school districts are required, upon request by a parent, to provide documentation of a student’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP, and other relevant documentation regarding educational services. special education provided to their child by the school district, including relevant correspondence sent between teachers and administrators.

Emails obtained by a reporter show a parent informing DeNicola-Hickman of the unredacted list of 35 student names shared on Oct. 23, three days before the administrators’ “self-disclosure” email.

“I am writing to let you know that prior to submitting the documents from my son’s case that I requested under FERPA for review, I noticed that I had received a page that was not properly redacted,” the parent wrote in the email. “I can clearly see the names and service times of the children in the ELC room as well as students in…5th, 6th and 8th grade.

“If I somehow received personal, protected, and identifiable information about 35 students, how many people would end up receiving my children’s information?” Confidentiality and records management require your immediate attention. I know several of these families personally and will let them know,” the relative added.

DeNicola-Hickman responded directly to the parent on Oct. 25, noting that she plans to alert parents whose children’s information has been leaked and stating that she and the superintendent are “reviewing our internal procedure for responses to FERPA and would also use technology to redact as we move forward.

How the error occurred

The superintendent said the disclosure of the students’ names occurred after a failed attempt to “hide” names in correspondence between teachers and staff members included in records requested by several parents, which allowed these parents to be aware of other students receiving special education. services.

Barile noted that the requested files contain “hundreds, if not thousands of pages.”

“So if you have multiple FERPA requests, you could be looking at thousands of pages, and we’re talking about two or three pages here where there was even a blackout effort, with a blackout pen, with multiple copies made so that would be black, and it was still bleeding somehow, and so it’s unfortunate, and immediately Amy sent a note to those parents,” he said.

“What was interesting about that was that Amy showed me the document and it was blacked out,” Barile added. “It’s so weird because it’s black and a black pen was used.”

Several parents of students receiving special education services who spoke about the apparent breach of privacy said they filed complaints with the state Department of Education.

Barile and DeNicola-Hickman confirmed acknowledging the issue to parents of students receiving special education services, but said that while school officials have spoken with officials from the Department of Education in State, the district had not directly reported the error to the agency.

“I can tell you we’ve had discussions with the state, there really isn’t a place where you report a FERPA concern,” DeNicola-Hickman said.

Trevor Ballantyne is a reporter for Hearst Media Connecticut. You can email him at trevor.ballantyne@hearstmédiact.com