ST CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – Parents and students attended a meeting of the Francis Howell Board of Education with concerns on an incident that left private information about students up for grabs. The board is looking to better safeguard that data.
Randy Cook, vice president of the school board, told those in attendance why he felt it was necessary to tell parents what information was being shared via a Sunshine request, and to who that information would be going to.
“I’m a father. I thought it was interesting to me. It was concerning to me,” he said.
Some believe the data that’s been requested is a bit too personal.
“To ask for a huge data dump like that, for things that are not of the benefit of the kid, can actually be harmful to kids, when you’re releasing emails, addresses,” said Vivian Gontarz, treasurer of Francis Howell Families, a group that focuses on ways to recruit and rally for board members.
The two groups that requested that information were the Francis Howell Education Association and the St. Charles County Families for Public Schools.
Some are not-so-certain their motives were education driven.
“It is concerning that these are a political action and a teachers union,” Grant Kilen, senior class president of Francis Howell North High School, said.
While students have a FERPA form to opt out of the sharing of public records, only about 20 out of more than 17,000 students had that formed signed, according to Jennifer Jolls, chief of communications for the school district.
A problem with the FERPA form is that it’s not attended to by a case-by-case basis.
“You want to opt in 100% or opt out 100%, and nobody wants to not be in the yearbook,” Kilen
Concerns have been growing since Monday. After our report aired on Tuesday, this Sunshine request clearly shows amendments to the initial terms on which the union was asking for information, now only claiming they need emails and addresses. That new request was sent in by Pam Sloan, a former superintendent who runs the FHEA union.
“It’s concerning that these organizations didn’t notify people in a way that made people feel comfortable with it,” Kilen said. “We kind of got blindsided by it.”
The senior class president says if they were to disclose things like addresses, emails, and phone numbers, it would be considered doxing.
“If you pull up somebody’s address, you get ISEP for at least three days,” Kilen said.
The SCCFFPS political action committee took this statement to social media to explain the motive behind the request was to increase school board voting in the district.
“Only about 5% of our parents voted at the last school board election,” Jamie Martin, president of the PAC Francis Howell Forward, said.
Some believe the acquisition of this information was not the answer.
“I think it’s coercive, almost, what they’re doing,” Kilen said.
Gontarz said a lot of parents didn’t even get the email from the district.
“Legislators need to tighten up what can be released through a Sunshine request. We want transparency,” she said. “People are entitled to ask, but you have to have some common sense behind it. You don’t want to do things that could hurt kids or are unnecessary to their education.”
Cook said the short-term solution could be amending the FERPA form, working alongside legislators to change laws that could affect student information.