“Mother Rabbit” Leads the Animals Back to the Original Data Source: Our Minnesota Department of Human Services, While Threatening our Children’s Department of Education Records
By: Anne Taylor
“Wait!” said Mother Rabbit. “I’ll show you all something guaranteed to terrify.”
“You will?” asked Little Rabbit, burying his head in fear.
“Yes – follow me!”
Mother Rabbit led the animals back to the Rabbit’s house.
“Welcome to the Messiest Room on Earth,” Mother Rabbit announced grandly. “Stinky socks! Dirty Rocks! An Emporium of Odiferous Oddities! You won’t believe your eyes – or your nose.”
“This is shocking,” said the skunk, sniffing a fossilized after-school snack.
“Unbelievable,” opinioned the ox.
“After you conclude your tour of the Messiest Room on Earth, you may take anything you like as a souvenir,” said Mother Rabbit. “In fact, take two. Or three.”
The above quote from Sarah Klise’s book “Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth” illustrates what I believe to be the blatant openness of how far out of control our data system has become regarding our students in school.
In fact, so open, it’s there for anyone (or any company, rather) to come in and collect just about anything and everything at will to the point of claiming children’s information as ‘souvenirs’ for profit. The stealing of such data is unwarranted, unpermitted and stinky just as a child’s “fossilized after-school snack.” And yes, many of us parents have been there finding just that in regards to school data collection!
For the last week my youngest, who is of pre-school age, has ironically asked me to read Klise’s book to her numerous times. So when I saw last night’s ten o’clock news clip regarding the lack of data safety and so-called outcry for better cybersecurity and spending to curtail hackers, my mind could only say: “Unbelievable!” just like the Ox in Klises’s book.
Being the ‘meanest mother on earth’ that I am, I found it outrageous to listen to the rhetoric of the local news acting as though cybersecurity was something of a new kind of threat in this state as seen in one clip from WCCO news as being unheard of, even ‘shocking.’
Not so shocking to me.
We here at MACC have shared concern for years, researched this, discussed it, wrote about it, preached it, informed parents, legislators and community members about it.
In 2013, the late state Capitol reporter Jim Ragsdale revealed “In Minnesota, a legislative auditor discovered that the state department of education’s computer systems ‘lacked adequate internal controls and comprehensive security plans’ and that department employees ‘had failed to document where private (student) data was held or the internal controls needed to secure it.’ The federal government having access, via these interconnected longitudinal data systems, to so much data about our kids is frightening. And it’s not just academic information that’s at stake.”
In the spring of 2016, myself and several members of the MACC board testified before our Minnesota House Education committee on the very issue of student data security. While the 2013 audit was brought up by House Representative, Eric Lucero (R-30B), the Minnesota Department of Education admitted they ‘fixed’ the problem with several million dollars to upgrade their system.
However; and shortly thereafter, further testimony that day revealed that even after the system was upgraded, our own MN DOE blatantly neglected to run an audit, and has NOT on any of its 30 plus contractors in a decade. Once again, common sense business practice with the government just went out with the stinky socks and fossilized after-school snacks! And who’s footing the bill and why so long to fix it? Why now?
While the news release focused mainly on the Department of Human Services, it is no accident the Commissioners backdrop was that of education records and student social security numbers. What the news failed to report is that during last spring’s testimony, it was revealed Minn-LInK is full-on open data for anyone to take as the treasure chest of the crowned jewels in data.
Minn-LInK exposes the following: Student standardized test records, General education testing records, child protection records, children’s mental health records, records of incarcerated adults, juvenile court records, student academic records, academic disciplinary records and “other” human services.
And a word about the Student Health Surveys I’ve written about and one of the most controversial, among other third party companies and schools themselves conducting their own surveys, that information also creates huge exposure.
According to Federal education instructors on data privacy, what is even more concerning are the breaches we don’t know about. As a parent, what is truly concerning is that there are little if any teeth in the law to hold districts, educators and our government institutions accountable.
Pre-1984/Pre-Mouse? According to some I’ve asked on computer safety, what’s unknown is how the data is stored, and where it is. It is an embarrassment to know that our state has to call in retired tech people to FIX our systems that already had millions poured into them time and time again.
Once again, as a society we have completely taken all of this for granted: Trusting the system. In this case, bluntly put, our state has been negligent in protecting our children’s information.
It is time for a complete re-evaluation and overhaul of student data laws and revisions. (SLEDS, Infinite Campus, to name a few). Verify your school contracts with Google. What do they say? Who or what is the real problem around the technology crisis we are in.
As I wrote in my article in 2014 following the passing of the late Minnesota Capitol reporter, Jim Ragsdale following his 2013 audit on our schools, we have to ask ourselves, did we as parents grant that permission to give school’s our most private information on our children? Our family information? Why is there a sudden need to ‘protect’ that information when all the while we have been subjecting our children to such profiling through an insurmountable survey’s on our students – some as high as standardized testing, even after we have a student survey statute under 121A.065 passed and enacted in 2016.
“Nearly every critical government service that we provide to Minnesotans is provided through our IT systems,” said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans. According to Department of Human Services, Chief Business Technology Officer Scott Peterson, the Minnesota Department of Human Services was hacked in 2015. With the DHS having it’s comingling with student data, this should cause alarm and concern. We have a growing number of students who are on medications, have personal student reports and health records that feeds into a larger data pool such as our State Longitudinal Data System (SLEDS) that feeding into the ever larger federal education system.
Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $125 million worth of cybersecurity reforms, with $74 million going to cybersecurity defenses, while $51 million would go to upgrading the state’s information technology infrastructure. How much of this could have been avoided had our state upgraded with the times? We are one of the few states so very far behind in technology reform, and yet the most forward thinking in innovation/technology systems in our schools and without proper protections in place at a statewide level.
Here are some classic examples of where your child’s information may be shared with the school district and beyond: Name, grade, height, weight, parents address and information, types of social media use, clubs, birthdate, academic records, favorite social media uses, sports physicals, immunizations, social-emotional attitudes and behaviors, discipline records, mental health, political affiliation, religious attitudes and beliefs, favorite colors, likes/dislikes of food, even cartoon characters, study habits, job and work values.
This is just a small list, and yet, these seemingly minuscule data links can be narrowed down to pinpoint a student’s shoe size with just this amount of information – or less.
It’s time to clean up the messiest room on Earth, Minnesota, and it starts with audits, sound laws and upgraded systems with full accountability to those who disregard any parent who should trust first and foremost the system that is in place before them.
Are there glitches in the system? Sure. But this? Blatant neglect. Minnesota families should absolutely have the first and foremost say on their data and trust that it is secure.