Education Privacy Bill Passes SD Committee

Phil Jensen

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privacySB 63, a bill to “protect the privacy of the records of individual students,” was heard today in the South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee.

The bill would, among other things, protect students from being forced to participate in surveys which asked questions about sexual behavior or attitudes, political beliefs of the student or the student’s parents, gun ownership or income.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Ernie Otten, said that when we shop online, it quickly becomes obvious that a lot of data is being gathered on us all the time. Otten said he saw the need to protect the privacy of school kids from the inappropriate gathering and dissemination of data related to them.

Rick Kriebel 2016

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Tony Venhuizen from Governor Dennis Daugaard’s office spoke in favor of the bill. He said that while this bill has come in response to Common Core, that the reason this is important is independent of Common Core concerns. Venhuizen said some privacy protections are already in place, and that to his knowledge none of the data this bill addresses is being gathered, but these protections are still advisable.

Dale Bartscher, Executive Director of the Family Heritage Alliance, said that invasive questions in the education system are troublesome and not something his organization supports. He said SB 63 is a move in the right direction to protect the privacy of school children and their families.

Rep. Jacqueline Sly, a former teacher, of Rapid City spoke as an individual, stating that she had reviewed privacy policies in other states, and that this bill contained a lot of the protections seen in other states. She said she was in support of the bill. Sly said that federal protections regarding data storage are insufficient. She said that laws have not kept up with technology and SB 63 is a step in the right direction to look at security measures for student data.

Woodrow Wilcox

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Cindy Flakoll of Concerned Women For America SD said she supports SB 63 but has some reservations and questions. She said that federal protections of student data had recently been “shredded” to allow data sharing between different federal agencies.  Flakoll said that she understands that the success of Common Core is said to hinge on the increased collection of data, making this issue of even greater concern.

Retired school psychologist Florence Thompson said she has performed over 4,000 psychological evaluations, and said that she supports this law because the protection of such data is critical. She expressed a concern with some of the wording in section 3 which says:

No elementary school or secondary school student shall be required to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning…
…(2) Mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;

Thompson said that the word “problems” might need a change because as long as something wasn’t labeled a “problem” it might not fall under this privacy protection.

Tonchi Weaver of South Dakota Citizens for Liberty spoke in support of the bill, but expressed concern that it didn’t contain language to address biometric data or video images. She said a company called Teachscape has contracted with the Rapid City School District, and the teacher evaluations they do can involve capturing video of the teachers, meaning minor children’s images are also being recorded in the classroom.

During opponent testimony time, Steve Sibson of Mitchell, SD said that while he normally agreed with those who had spoken in support of this bill, he believes this bill doesn’t go nearly far enough in protecting privacy. Sibson said he first began to understand that family’s privacy was being violated in the public education system when he heard from a child who told his uncle that he couldn’t be spanked for misbehaving because spanking was “abuse.” Sibson said he didn’t necessarily want the bill killed, but wanted to see the bill go much further in protecting privacy than it does as introduced.

Committee Chairman Senator Larry Rhoden questioned whether the list of data mining activities in the bill was better than leaving the activity open-ended. Otten said that in reviewing similar legislation from other states, a list had been included.

The bill passed 9-0:

Rhoden Yea Rave Yea Brown Yea
Holien Yea Lederman Yea Maher Yea
Tieszen Yea Frerichs Yea Lucas Yea

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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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