Coronavirus, Education, Exclusives, Featured, Governor Polis, Sherrie Peif

Schools urge end to forced disclosure of private student information; state using data to track vaccinations

DENVER — More than 20 charter schools across the state recently presented a petition to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) requesting that it stop collecting and using private information of school children to publicize youth vaccination rates on its website.

Diana Herrero, deputy director of the division of disease control and public health response — a division of CDPHE — confirmed in an email obtained by Complete Colorado that it has been collecting identifying information about Colorado school children without their parents’ knowledge to combine with its COVID-19 vaccination records and create a public database that showcases the vaccination rates at every school in Colorado.

Under the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools are prohibited from releasing information about students to anyone without the permission of the student or parent. However, according to the email, Herrero said: “Parental consent was not required for this data sharing … The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) is authorized to share education records, which may include student’s personally identifiable information without parental or student consent in connection with a health and safety emergency.”

The ability to share the information is the result of a rule under FERPA that allows for the disclosure if it is “in connection with a health or safety emergency” and an executive order signed by Gov. Jared Polis in 2021 saying the “knowledge of information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.”

In Polis’ order, he forced CDE to “share with CDPHE student information necessary for public health purposes of ongoing COVID-19 investigation and disease mitigation.”

That order stipulated that the data released must include “information identifying the student’s school of attendance and sufficient information about students to match their information to records in CDPHE immunization and disease control databases.”

The purpose was to create new records containing information as to which students in Colorado have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and to what level.

Polis’ order did not require a public database, compounding concern by the group of about 20 charter schools belonging to the Education Alliance of Colorado (EAC) over the database developed by CDPHE.

“The Education Alliance is extremely concerned about this database and the public dashboard — both in terms of how they were created and in terms of how they may be utilized,” said Ross Izard, spokesman for the group. “The dashboard unfairly stigmatizes schools for vaccination rates they can’t control and seems designed to put pressure on many thousands of families who have chosen, for a wide variety of reasons, not to give their children this entirely voluntary vaccine at this time. It is wildly inappropriate for personal student data to be used this way — especially without the knowledge or consent of parents or schools.”

That database outlines vaccination rates of every public school in Colorado.  The interactive map is extensive. It shows the data at a school level, district level and county level and whether students have 1 or more doses, are fully immunized or whether they still need an additional booster. It also allows the user to rank the schools based on the data desired in a color-coded fashion.

Herrero, who said in the email the database is not actually a database but a “dashboard” — albeit created by combining two separate databases into one — added “most Colorado schools do not know the COVID-19 vaccination coverage rate of their student populations. COVID-19 vaccination coverage rates at the district, school, and grade levels can help families, educators, and school staff make informed decisions about other potential mitigation practices they may want to consider for their children and/or themselves, such as continued indoor masking and physical distancing. This is especially important for members of school communities who have immunocompromising conditions or other risk factors for COVID-19.”

The petition to CDPHE was signed by more than 1,300 parents from the various charter schools objecting to the information and asking that it and the color coding be stopped.

Herrero said in her email, however, that the department will “maintain this dashboard to provide ongoing transparency to those who would like to know the COVID-19 vaccination rates within their schools,” she said. “Similarly, the department will continue to use color coding in the Colorado school COVID-19 vaccination data dashboard as it aligns with how we publicly display other deidentified, aggregate school vaccination data reported to us annually by school districts and childcare providers across the state.”


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