Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Success Academy Violates Student Privacy (Again)

In a way, I can almost sympathize with Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy. Schools can find themselves in a real bind at times. A student can go to the media (social or traditional) and tell a story of how he was repeatedly hauled into the principal's office and disciplined because he was fighting bullies who picked on him for being gay, and the school must hold its tongue, even if it has a folder thick with reports of the student's repeated harassment of students that he suspected of hitting on his girlfriend. A student can claim to be unfairly punished for no reason, even if the school has a folder for that student showing a history of bullying. The schools may be armed with a defense, but they can't use it.

In every story of how a student was treated by a school, the school has its own story. It may be a legitimate story, or that story may reveal that the school behaved just as badly as the student claims. But the public is not going to know, because schools have a mandate, both legal and ethical, to treat student privacy as sacrosanct.

"Don't cross me, you little tattletales!"
This is as it should be. Teachers and staff have access to an enormous amount of student information, and so they have an obligation to keep that information just as private as humanly possible. It is a fundamental ethic of teaching, both because it's the only decent way to behave and because if families and students couldn't trust the school, it would never be able to do its job (and there are plenty of examples of places here families don't trust the school, and the school function suffers because of it).

There are certainly moments in which schools and individual teachers drop this ball. But for the most part, schools take privacy seriously. Here's an example-- I was the football game announcer for twenty years at my school, and in the last of those years, I was instructed to no longer call for a round of applause for an injured player limping off the field by name, because naming the injured student over the loudspeaker was probably a violation of HIPAA.

Success Academy has a history of problems with the whole student confidentiality thing. Back in 2015, NPR ran a story building on the growing controversy surrounding Success's aggressive handling of discipline for even its littlest students. The story reported on on student's experience, so Eva, feeling punched, punched back by opening this five-year-old child's personal records to the world. In the world of public education, a few million jaws dropped-- because you just don't do that. No matter how bad you think the story is making you look, you absolutely do not defend yourself by violating the confidentiality of a child. For one thing, it's against the law (FERPA), and for another thing-- you just don't do that. There may not be another act in her checkered charter career that so clearly demonstrates that Moskowitz just doesn't get schools or education or what she's doing with them.

Well, she's done it again.

Earlier this month, Alex Zimmerman wrote a story for Chalkbeat about how New York City schools are failing so many students with special needs. The story profiled one particular student, and a portion of that student's story included Success Academy. Success didn't care for how they came off in the story, so they responded by sending the reporter the student's file, right down to her learning plan and notes from the school psychologist.

You just don't do that!

Even if you sincerely believe that the child has slung mud at your school, what kind of grown-ass professional adult (drawing a half-million dollar salary) then gets in a mudslinging fight with a child?

The family has filed a federal privacy complaint, so I suppose that Success Academy might be facing some real trouble, like maybe a sternly worded letter in a file somewhere.

In fact, as Chalkbeat reports, no school has ever lost a federal cent over a FERPA violation. But then, most education professionals don't violate the law not because of fear of consequences, but because it would be so fundamentally unethical, such a violation of trust and abuse of power.

Success is protected, once again, by the hugeness of New York City. Moskowitz could never pull this kind of thing in a small town, where the breach of trust would put her out of business. Who would send their child to a school where the paperwork includes "In the event that you try to complain about us, we reserve the right to spread your private and personal information all over the media." It's n ot a compelling way to recruit.

No comments:

Post a Comment