Judge clarifies order to share student records with plaintiffs in suit against state education department

After receiving an overwhelming number of objection notices from parents, a federal district court judge has clarified the process for disclosing student records to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the California Department of Education. 

On March 1, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said the CDE will not be compelled to transfer data from its largest database to attorneys representing two parent groups. Instead, the plaintiffs in the case will be permitted to request information through a court-appointed special master, who will oversee the transfer of specific records from the state’s California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, or CALPADS.

The ruling marks the latest twist in a lawsuit that dates back to April 2012, when the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association and the Concerned Parent Association alleged the California Department of Education failed to monitor, investigate and correct non-compliance of special education laws by local agencies.

The CDE has contested the allegations, but as part of the legal discovery process the court told the department in February that it must produce all data collected on general and special students who have attended a California school since January 2008. That naturally prompted concern among parents and privacy advocates. The court did, however, assert the plaintiffs and their attorneys would not be allowed to share any confidential material with anyone outside the case, and last week’s ruling further clarifies the order.

Examples of the type of information logged by the CDE include names, Social Security numbers, addresses, demographics data, course information, assessment results and behavior and discipline records.

As we previously reported, there is a process for parents to register their opposition to the data release, and the deadline to do so is April 1. But Judge Mueller reiterated the objection notices are not to be confused with opt-out forms. That said, they have effectively conveyed public concerns, with thousands reportedly mailed to the courts already.