WATERVILLE – State law requires that we request your child’s Social Security number. But, in order to protect your child’ privacy, you should refuse to give it to us.

That’s the conflicting message that Waterville Public Schools will soon be sending out.

A resolution adopted by the Waterville Board of Education this week “respectfully requests that parents protect their child’s privacy by refusing to provide the school with their child’s Social Security number.”

The resolution will be mailed out to parents Monday along with a school information packet.

School committees in Winslow and Vassalboro are set to consider adopting identical resolutions at their meetings on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

The resolutions come in response to a new state law taking effect this fall — “An Act Improve the Ability of the Department of Education to Conduct Longitudinal Data Studies” — which requires Maine schools to attempt to collect students’ Social Security numbers and submit them to state education officials.

Parents don’t have to submit their children’s Social Security numbers, though.

The Waterville resolution cites instances in recent years in which Social Security numbers were either stolen during security breaches or mistakenly revealed, saying the law “poses a potential threat to children because tracking individual student data in conjunction with Social Security numbers opens the possibility of security breaches that could negatively impact students.”

Joan Phillips-Sandy, a Waterville Board of Education member, said that when she learned about the new law recently she obtained draft resolutions from the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which has raised privacy concerns about the data collection.

“I became very concerned about privacy and security issues,” Phillips-Sandy said. “Identity theft is a growing major concern and there is no such thing as a really secure database.”

Waterville high school administrators say they haven’t had any parents ask questions about the issue, but that may change soon.

“It doesn’t seem to be something people are asking about yet,” said Don Reiter, the high school principal. “I think it was right for the board to do that. There’s not a lot of direct benefit to the students in providing that information and information often isn’t as secure as we think it is. The big issue is we’re the ones asking for it, so the assumption is we’ll be gate-keeping that information. But that’s not true — it goes to the state.”

The numbers would be collected through the Infinite Campus computer system, which already assigns a state identification number to each enrolled student.

In a letter sent to school administrators last week, Angela Faherty, acting commissioner of the education department, says collecting Social Security numbers would have several benefits such as: enabling the department to conduct studies on enrollment and achievement; more accurately match up records; and combining the student information with workforce data from the Department of Labor.

While it’s legal for school boards to send such a resolution out to parents, the school district must still request the Social Security information from them, according to David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the education department.

A district that refuses to request the information would be violating state law, Connerty-Marin said.

“We would like it if school boards would look at the law, which really explains why we’re collecting that data — it’s to improve the education system for all students,” Connerty-Marin said. “There’s a great deal of value in this and we certainly have a very secure and effective system. We would prefer that school boards, who are in the business of trying to improve educational opportunities for students, would encourage participation.”

But Phillips-Sandy contends that the Social Security data “won’t really provide useful data in terms of educational policy.”

“There are too many factors other than public school K-12 education that influence what happens to students later in their lives,” she said.


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