Archive for the ‘STUDENT AND FAMILY PRIVACY’ Category

My Camera Editorial Advisory Board comment published on Oct. 3, 2009:

After recently discussing student and family privacy with a Broomfield parent, the parent gave me a copy of “Hot Seat Freshman Questions.” The questionnaire was used in a Broomfield High Freshman Seminar August get-acquainted activity. Principal Ginger Ramsey quickly and kindly clarified for me: Teachers and upperclass student helpers “break the ice” in class by answering the questions first. Students can “pass” on any question and voluntarily take the “hot seat” in front of the class.

Nevertheless, peer pressure can take its toll and disclosing personal information gives bullies something to use. There is no value in teachers asking students in class: “Do you have a significant other? Who is it?” and “Who do you have a crush on?” In fact, answering honestly requires students to divulge their sexual orientation and lack of or interest in a “significant other.”

It sounds like we’re training students for the Oprah Winfrey Show. Students responding with creative fiction may fit the bill more than their passing on out-of-bounds questions.

I applaud Ramsey for her open door for anyone with concerns about the 3-year-old program. We all need to know whether this required seminar is an academic course or counseling program, whether students will be further questioned about their personal lives and whether materials are available for review. Also, I urge the school board to look carefully at district policies addressing the matter.

[See more details about this situation by clicking here.]

*This title was not part of the Camera publication.

Source: Daily Camera

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My Camera Editorial Advisory Board comment published on Aug. 1, 2009:

Parents teach their children to be safe by not sharing personal information on the Web. Likewise, the U. S. Justice Department advises individuals to be “stingy” in sharing and to adopt a “need to know” approach. In contrast, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper announced in early July he is talking with Palantir Technologies to develop a huge database for Denver. With no apparent clearer goal than to better help Denver school children, parents and children are to surrender their privacy. Their information would be shared within the city, the school district and possibly nonprofit entities.

Some children may benefit from teachers, social workers and the like turning to the computer rather than to them or their parents. However, children across the board will lose. Their data, errors and all, will be available for individuals to analyze and in other ways act like all-knowing beings peering in and poking around. Lives of children and their families will become an open book.

The same lure of free money and “help” attracting Hickenlooper hangs over local communities and school districts. They may have the same luck as Denver with the database. Palantir Technologies, the developer, plans to make it a donation. Additionally, the database may help school districts catch some of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, the largest K-12 education reform discretionary pot in our country’s history. Unfortunately, these funds hook us into a more national K-12 educational system, a move we should disdain in favor of local control.

*This title was not part of the Camera publication.

Source: Daily Camera

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Public school districts need to acknowledge and accept responsibility for respecting and protecting student and family privacy. Students and their families deserve and need this respect and protection. Children are vulnerable. (See my Nov. 3, 2009 post as an example.) They and their families want the focus in school to be on academic pursuits, not on their navigating through consequences of telling about their personal lives, particularly in required assignments.

A strongly supportive policy would say: No student as part of any curricula or program will be required, expected, or encouraged to submit without the prior parental written consent to any activity, assignment, survey, testing method, analysis, or evaluation in which the student is to reveal the student’s or the student’s family’s attitudes, habits, traits, opinions, beliefs, or feelings concerning one or more of the following:

(1) Religious or political affiliations;
(2) Physical, mental or emotional attributes, behavior or problems;
(3) Sexuality;
(4) Self-esteem, self-awareness, or self-concept;
(5) Home and family;
(6) All interpersonal relationships; or
(7) Use of money, financial status, or income.

For those who think negatively about this standard, think about how much students and parents know about teachers, principals, school administrators and the superintendent. Think about how much we know about school board members or the U.S. Education Secretary. We know little to nothing about them.

Then, think about President Obama’s efforts to get much of our personal information in databases as part of health care and K-12 educational reforms. Think about any reason the government would need this information and what it would do with it.

To maintain our ability to live our lives freely, we must protect not only our own privacy but also the privacy of students and their families. If we don’t protect privacy with this standard, then what? And, if not now, when?

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It’s with mixed feelings I watched parents send their children to school at summer’s end. I know the wiggle room parents gain during the day, they often lose to homework in the evening. I also know that without effort parents and children can lose some of their privacy.

When my children were in the Boulder Valley School District, they were asked numerous questions that were none of the teachers’ business. These examples are ancient history now. What is relevant and current, however, is that by district policy questioning that started out with “What did you do last summer?” still can easily move in whatever directions teachers want to go.

Though the issue likely is not unique to the BVSD, one current BVSD example is the 20-question “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” getting-to-know-you activity used in August in the Freshman Seminar, a required elective the district calls a “transition” course.  Among other questions, teachers asked 9th graders: “Do you have a significant other? Who is it?” and “Who do you have a crush on?”

Ginger Ramsey, principal of Broomfield High, one school where the questions were used, quickly and kindly clarified for me: Teachers and upper-class student helpers “break the ice” in class by answering the questions first. Students can “pass” on any question and voluntarily take the “hot seat” in front of the class.”

I received a telephone call on Oct. 9 from Deirdre Pilch, assistant superintendent for school leadership, in my request for a response to my public comment in the Camera, a Boulder, Colo., newspaper, on Oct. 3. She validated my concerns about the questions mentioned here and raised concern about another question I had included in my original submission: “What is your biggest regret?” Pilch said she and Ramsey agreed “schools should not be asking 9th graders about their dating practices and who they have a crush on.”

If students were to answer the questions honestly, they would be opening themselves up to potential bullying and would disclose their sexual orientation and interest or lack of in dating relationships. As I have high regard for Ramsey, I was not surprised to hear Pilch say that had Ramsey known the questions beforehand, Ramsey would have talked with teachers about using them.

Pilch added she sent out an e-mail to principals asking Freshman Seminar coordinators to discontinue the “Hot Seat” activity. She didn’t save a copy but did track down one for me. Pilch said in her Oct. 9 e-mail at 10:07 a.m. to Don Stensrud, Ginger Ramsey, Kevin Braney, Jerry Anderson, Rich Salaz, Kurt Levasseur, and Rhonda Haniford:

“Please take a look at this Freshman Seminar activity. We have had a little controversy arise over it. So, have a conversation with your Freshman Seminar folks about the appropriateness of this in terms of kids who might be uncomfortable with the questions about date, crush, significant other, regret.

“Thanks for looking at this. It is not representative of our goals for Freshman Seminar, so please ask your staff to discontinue use.”

A naïve conclusion to this situation is to say all is well now. The shocking questions so obviously out of bounds were removed from the classroom. Unfortunately, a closer look shows the exact opposite. Children and their families are still at risk.

The first sign was the assistant superintendent didn’t retain a copy of her request the activity be discontinued. Another was the district doesn’t have the smart tools of district policy and training to assure the new path will be maintained. Dr. Chris King, BVSD superintendent, and the school board are in a position to remedy this situation. We’ll see what, if anything, they will do.

Every student in every school district could be under the same difficulties of being asked questions that they find uncomfortable answering. The question is what to do about it? Until superintendents and school boards act favorably, students who encounter these “Hot Seat” questions or any others they feel uncomfortable answering should either decline to answer or respond with fiction, the more outlandish or creative the better. In fact, I see no other way to protect student and family privacy.


Here is the complete list of 20 “Hot Seat Freshman Questions” used in the Boulder Valley School District Freshman Seminar: 

  1. What is your full name (including middle name)?
  2. What activities do you participate in at BHS?
  3. What are things you do outside of school?
  4. What do you like most about BHS?
  5. Do you have any brothers or sisters at BHS?
  6. Do you have a significant other? Who is it?
  7. Who do you have a crush on?
  8. If you could date a celebrity, who would it be?
  9. Where is somewhere you’d like to travel that you’ve never been?
10. What is your favorite subject at BHS?
11. Who is your hero? Why?
12. What is your definition of happiness?
13. Describe your worst haircut?
14. What is your biggest regret?
15. Do you have a job? Where? If not, where do you think you’d like to work?
16. What are your GPA goals for this year?
17. Where were you born?
18. What state would you love to live in?
19. What do you want to do for a career?
20. Have you ever been outside the country?

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