(Beaver Dam) State Representative Mark Born says he was surprised to see opposition to a bill he introduced that would make some student information more readily available to the public. The legislation involves what is called “directory data,” which information a school district can release publicly. Directory data has always included student’s names, addresses and phone numbers, among other things. Born’s bill would add the name of a parent or legal guardian to that public record.
While such information may be requested by – for example – a sports broadcaster seeking stats on student athlete, it was prompted by an incident in which law enforcement needed the name. Currently, the name of that parent could only be given to police in a life-or-death situation. Born says a local detective and a counselor wanted to contact a student about a tragic situation that was not life-or-death. The officer wanted to confirm they were talking to the right student, which was technically a violation of statute. That’s why the Beaver Dam Republican says he never looked at this as a privacy issue. The bill, he says, has the support of the School Board Association and School Superintendent’s Association and had democratic co-sponsors.
But Milwaukee Public Schools are concerned that the new information would be used in marketing to lure public school students into the state’s private school choice voucher program.
Born concedes that a parent’s name will become public record, but he notes that current law already makes the child’s name and address available. He says if someone wants to market currently all they would have to do is address it “To The Family of…” the student.
Born says it started to become partisan issue but Democratic State Representative Don Vruwink, an educator, refused to take his name off the legislation and it ultimately passed the lower house with bipartisan support.
“I still don’t see the controversy that folks have tried to make this out to be,” Born says. If there are privacy concerns, he says there should be a bill to remove all the current information that can be made public.
“When we’re in a hyper-partisan environment like this, things get exaggerated,” he says.
Beaver Dam Superintendent Mark Distefano has told us that the change is welcomed by school officials. DiStefano says the intent is to make sure there are no roadblocks or slowdowns in the event of a crisis or emergency that would negatively impact law enforcements ability to respond and bring resolution to a situation.
The law change would not stop parents from opting out. A form is provided at the beginning of a school year which gives families the option to opt out of any information being shared. The bill made its way through the Assembly and is awaiting action in the Senate.