This year, the Maine Department of Education has instituted a new policy, requiring every public school principal to send on the name and infraction details of any child suspended from school to the state government for inclusion in a massive database recording the behaviors of youth. We’re not talking about criminals here — we’re talking about kids, and we’re not talking about prisons here — we’re talking about schools. The Maine Department of Education has demanded that its school principals (over their strenuous objections) be turned from educators into government informants, creating a permanent central disciplinary database on children.
Think about what you did at school. Now imagine all that being put on your permanent record with your name attached. Comfortable? Are you comfortable with the idea of a state government telling you not to worry your pretty little head none, because they have a super-safe system no hacker, data thief, or homeland security goon could ever exploit?
Why is this data on Maine’s children being collected? Maine Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron explains the rationale:
The MEDMS Safe and Drug Free School Module includes students’ names because this student level data is needed to create the aggregated demographic and program data reports requested by the federal Office of Substance Abuse, and the U.S. Department of Education, including the U.S. DOE Office of Special Education Programs, which requests the number of special education students that received suspensions of a certain length of time and requires targeted technical assistance under the SPP. 20 USCS § 1416.
Commissioner Gendron acknowledges that 46 states fulfill federal reporting requirements without collecting student names, but they use different database software, and in switching to a new computer program “there would be some costs incurred.” To translate: you must betray children’s privacy and establish permanent, vulnerable records on them because the software we bought says we need it and we would have to spend money to fix things.
Silly me, but I thought the whole idea of education was to help a person learn to think for herself and take responsibility for the implications of her actions. Times have changed, and now “the computer told me to do it” suffices.