Bill looks to protect school disciplinary records

Posted April 01, 2009, at 8:24 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The chairman of the legislative committee in charge of the state’s education policy has taken steps to ensure that the disciplinary records of individual students not be stored in a database at the Department of Education.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Cumberland, the co-chairman of the Joint Committee for Education and Cultural Affairs, said he was concerned that the names of the students could become public at some later date and harm their reputations.

The state Department of Education collects the names of students who have been suspended or expelled and stores them in a central database, a policy implemented in response to requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

To address his concerns, Alfond has filed a bill to prevent schools from disclosing the name of a student involved in “prohibitive behavior” unless specifically required by state and federal law. The bill is scheduled to be taken up by the committee next week.

“I’m just not convinced that these names should be attached to the student’s record and be filed in Augusta,” Alfond said Tuesday. “I don’t think this is the right policy. Maine schools should not be required to give the Department of Education the name of every student they discipline.”

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the policy was implemented a few years ago in response to the requirements of the safe schools portions of the No Child Left Behind Act. He said that while the department collects the names of students who have been suspended or expelled, it does not share them with other agencies or school districts.

Connerty-Marin said the state is required to file reports with the federal government detailing incidents of prohibited behavior. He said school districts provide the state with the information through computer interface. When the department compiles reports, he said, it only details the number of incidents, not the identity of those involved. He said federal law prohibits revealing the names of students.

“The purpose is to collect accurate information under No Child Left Behind,” Connerty-Marin said Tuesday. “In order to provide reliable data, we need to do it this way. The feds prohibit us from providing the names or sharing that information with anybody. We don’t even see the names.”

Rep. Wesley Richardson, R-Warren, a supporter of the legislation, said he was alerted to the situation by a local school board member who recalled a recent case where a 15-year-old boy took his father’s pickup truck to school without realizing there was a rifle in the back. He termed the incident an “honest mistake,” but the boy was still subjected to discipline. Richardson worried that the record would be with the boy forever.

“Does this information have to go with him for the rest of his life?” Richardson asked.

Connerty-Marin said the department shared Richardson’s concerns, “which is why we have protocols in place.” He said the department has the ability to retrieve names of those disciplined, but that it has had “no reason” to do so. He said the only reason the names are in the system is because each Maine student has an identification number that their schools use when filing reports with the state.

“The student identifier allows us to track students through the public school system to ensure they receive the services they are entitled to,” Connerty-Marin said.

Bruce Mailloux, superintendent of schools for SAD 34 in Belfast, said Wednesday that although the school district followed regulations and filed the required prohibited behavior reports, he did not see the need to include the names. Like the others concerned with the system, Mailloux said he worried that confidential information could be revealed in later years.

“I understand the concerns people have. Any time information gets out it can be a concern. Over a period of time, the best of intentions can change and things can get out,” Mailloux said. “I’ve not heard there is a bona fide need for the names. If you can’t show me a need, you don’t need them.”

Connerty-Marin said department representatives planned to attend the April 6 public hearing on Alfond’s bill “to explain how this works and to share our concerns as well for student privacy.”

wgriffin@bangordailynews.net

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