School Board opposes state's use of student Social Security numbers
Posted June 29-Concerned about the use of SAD 44 student Social Security numbers by the Maine Department of Education, the School Board Monday unanimously approved a resolution asking the Maine Legislature to rescind the law allowing the practice.
The law is to take effect this fall.
The board's vote also included a directive for SAD 44 to clearly explain to parents this fall that they are not required to allow the district to report the numbers to the state.
Chairman Sid Pew took the lead on the resolution.
“I think it's an invasion of privacy,” he said.
The law (LD1356), passed in 2009, is intended to help track the performance of students before and after graduation, by linking student information between the DOE and the Department of Labor. The project, known as the Maine Statewide Longitudinal Data System, identifies the occupations of former students whose Social Security numbers are in employment records. The purpose is to evaluate and improve education programs.
While the DOE can require districts to collect and report SS numbers, children's numbers are reported only if parents opt into the program. The law states specifically that an explanation of this be included when requesting parental consent.
But Pew said he is concerned that the implications of participation may not be made clear enough. He noted that in 2006 the Veterans' Administration inadvertently compromised the SS numbers of some 25 million veterans when a computer disk was stolen.
Pew said SAD 44 should include wording in paperwork sent home to parents encouraging them to think carefully about their choice.
In a written description of his rationale on the issue, Pew noted, “As a board we must ask parents to refrain from handing over children's Social Security numbers. Attaching a child's social security number to their achievements and other information is a violation of their privacy.”
Earlier this month, the Maine Civil Liberties Union released a statement noting that a recent letter from the DOE to Maine superintendents includes six paragraphs about the benefits of collecting the numbers, but only one sentence noting that disclosure is not required.
“Parents should think long and hard before handing over their children's social security numbers for this new tracking program,” the MCLU statement said.
Pew said he planned to contact other school boards about supporting an effort to rescind the law, and said he had contacted state Rep. Matt Peterson about it.
The SAD 44 resolution will also be submitted to the Maine School Board Association for consideration at its annual meeting this fall.