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Privacy Concerns Grow Over Student Data

Privacy concerns have touched off a debate this summer about whether schools should change the practice of sharing student contact information with outside sources.

School districts and colleges nationwide are allowed to sell or share student lists that contain information such as the names, ages, phone numbers and home addresses of students.

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 lets schools decide how much student data they designate as public record for use in directories, yearbooks and other school publications, says Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. Outside groups have access to public record information.

"Once the data gets out, they have no real control over what happens," says David Holtzman, a former security analyst and author of the book Privacy Lost.

Efforts to stop the practice:

In Plano, Texas, the school board decided in June to stop giving out students' phone numbers, home and e-mail addresses after parents complained that some companies were using overly aggressive sales tactics when contacting parents, district spokeswoman Lesley Range-Stanton says.

"Having a list of all the students . . . is a great marketing tool, and I understand that," Range-Stanton says. The board sought to "protect that student information as much as possible."

In Sioux Falls, S.D., parent Kevin Kunkel, formed a group to oppose a school policy that shares its student list. At least 23 organizations were given the list last school year. Parents can request their information be taken off the list, says Bill Smith, a district spokesman.

In Dublin, Ohio, James Ash unsuccessfully sued the suburban Columbus school district last year after contact information about his child was shared with outside groups, says lawyer Gregory Peterson.

In Kentucky, efforts by University of Kentucky student Kirsten Lovas, 21, to ban the practice of making the student directory accessible online prompted UK to make sure students are aware they can restrict what information is made available, UK spokesman Dan Adkins says.

Martin reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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