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Proposal strengthens privacy of student information policy

The new policy reaffirms the City's commitment to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students in Boston Public Schools, regardless of immigration status.

Building on the commitment to ensure Boston and its schools are safe and welcoming to everyone, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Brenda Cassellius today proposed a new Boston School Committee policy that further clarifies the protocols that are to be followed when receiving requests for student education records. Under the policy, all Boston Public Schools employees, including Boston School Police officers, will be trained annually in all relevant laws regarding the privacy of student education records. The proposal will be presented to the School Committee on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, followed by a vote tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, 2020. 

"As a City, our job is to make sure all of our residents feel safe everywhere, whether they are in their schools or in their homes," said Mayor Walsh. "As the national rhetoric on immigration has unfortunately taken a dangerous turn, we have taken the steps necessary to strengthen municipal policies that we believe will bolster trust in our communities and protect public safety. Providing safe spaces for everyone who is part of our community is our number one priority." 

"There is nothing more important than ensuring Boston Public Schools' children and families feel safe and welcome in our schools," said Superintendent Cassellius. "Since coming to Boston, I've been working with my team to strengthen our efforts to protect private student information while also maintaining the safety of our students and communities. The shared commitment of Mayor Walsh and Commissioner Gross demonstrate a collaboration that will help our students do what is most important -- to focus on their learning and achieving their dreams." 

The City actively works with advocacy organizations to update policies with the goal of providing clearer guidelines to protect our students' privacy. The proposed Policy Regarding the Privacy of Student Information in the Boston Public Schools affirms both the district's legal obligations with respect to student education records and, subject to those obligations, its commitment to cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation of criminal activity to ensure that our schools are safe places for learning. The policy will be issued with a corresponding Superintendent's Circular that explains step-by-step the procedures employees must take if they receive a request for student education records, which are protected by state and federal laws. 

In an effort to strike a balance to maintain the safety of students while abiding by state and federal laws regarding the confidentiality of student records, this corresponding Circular will assist school leaders, administrators, teachers, and staff in responding to various types of requests from law enforcement. The superintendent issues guidelines and regulations, that are updated and reissued annually, about policy implementation to schools and departments through Superintendent's Circulars. The current Superintendent's Circular defines what student records are and explains the circumstances in which Boston Public Schools can disclose them. BPS will issue an updated Superintendent's Circular on how the new policy being proposed will be implemented, and the relevant laws and internal procedures to student information sharing. 

"As the Boston Police Department, it is our duty to protect everyone in the City of Boston, and this is especially true for students, teachers, and staff of our schools," said Boston Police Commissioner William Gross. "Our police officers do their level best to do their jobs correctly, professionally and with compassion. I commend Mayor Walsh and Superintendent Cassellius for looking at ways that we can strengthen our policies to make everyone who is part of our school communities safer."

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and state regulations, only parents, guardians or students older than 14 or who have entered the ninth grade, have the legal right to control access to their student's education record. BPS annually notifies all students and parents of their rights through a guide which includes the types of information that may be legally released without their consent, and the information that cannot be released without their prior consent. Only the student, parent, and authorized school personnel are allowed to have access to information in the student record unless there is an existing legal exception, such as a subpoena or a health or safety emergency. This new policy honors these rights. 

BPS will develop an internal protocol for approving the disclosure of Boston School Police records to law enforcement entities. Under the law, Boston School Police records are not considered student education records if they are created and maintained by them for a law enforcement purpose. However, creating and sharing law enforcement unit records with external parties requires established protocols to ensure that such records do not contain protected student education information and that they are shared only after review and approval by appropriate individuals. 

The proposal will be presented to the Boston School Committee next Wednesday, March 18, 2020 and will be followed by a vote tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, 2020. 

"Immigrant students are welcome in Boston Public Schools and we will continue to welcome them, support them, and honor their constitutional right to a free, safe, and uninterrupted education," said Boston School Committee Vice-Chair Alex Oliver-Davila. "As a school district, we are responsible for ensuring the safety of all students in our schools. The Boston School Committee looks forward to reviewing these policies and implementing new measures to protect our students."

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