AUGUSTA — State law will require schools in Maine to collect students’ Social Security numbers this fall and submit them to state officials.

But the Department of Education is advising school districts to make sure parents know they don’t have to submit their children’s Social Security numbers when their schools ask for them.

The Department of Education released guidelines to superintendents Tuesday about the proper procedures for collecting students’ Social Security numbers.

The updated guidelines come months after a civil liberties group voiced concerns that the department wasn’t doing enough to alert parents to the potential dangers of sharing their children’s Social Security numbers.

Schools will start the number collection when classes begin to comply with a law that the Legislature passed in 2009. Officials plan to use the Social Security numbers as they develop a statewide system to track students’ progress throughout school and into the workplace.

The Obama administration is making more aggressive student data collection a priority as a way to assess schools’ long-term effectiveness and inform policy decisions. Maine received a $7.3 million federal grant in May to help it continue developing its data system.

The guidance to superintendents recommends that schools tell parents why they’re collecting Social Security numbers and that there is no consequence for withholding the information.

It’s the second draft of the guidelines that state officials have sent to superintendents. The first draft was sent in May.

In June, the Maine Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Department of Education requesting that schools alert parents of the privacy concerns related to the release of Social Security numbers.

Zach Heiden, the MCLU’s legal director, said Tuesday that the department’s updated guidelines still don’t do enough.

“It would have been nice for them to include that explicit caution,” he said. “But for the Department of Education, it seems like it’s more important to talk about the benefits of doing this data collection.”

The law requires schools to inform parents why they’re collecting their children’s Social Security numbers and that they can refuse to give them. It doesn’t require that schools mention potential privacy concerns.

Last week, the MCLU sent letters to school board chairs, calling on their boards to pass resolutions affirming students’ privacy rights.


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