The Morgan Hill Case & Student Privacy
Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association v. California Department of Education
Within the last week or so, you may have been warned about your student’s PRIVATE information being released and to avoid this you have been told you should opt out to protect your child’s rights.
You may have heard these warnings but you really do not know WHY these warnings are happening. Well, it has to do with a case that is still in the courts named Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association v. California Department of Education. We felt this case was so important that we dedicated a special blog to it.
The Morgan Hill case involves a parent-run non-profit organization that is suing the California Department of Education because it failed to monitor, investigate, or provide services which would enforce the rights of children with disabilities under the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).
As our past blogs have discussed, each state is bound by the IDEA because it is the law of the land, however, how each state can implement the federal law varies from state to state. In California, the California Department of Education is responsible for helping protect the rights of children with special needs in various ways such as investigating and monitoring the school districts.
Because this lawsuit is on-going, and in a lawsuit each side is entitled to an exchange in “discovery” or documents and other papers to help prove their case, the Judge in this matter issued what is called a “Protective Order.”
First, a Protective Order completely ENSURES that no one is allowed to disclose any confidential information such as social security numbers, etc. PLUS this information will be SEALED and will NOT become part of the public record of this case. Moreover, the ONLY people who actually get to see this information are the Plaintiffs’ attorneys and their experts (which totals about ten (10) people).Remember the original Plaintiffs in this matter are a parent-run non-profit organization that is trying to protect the rights of children with special needs. If anyone knows the importance of the confidentiality of this information, it would be Plaintiffs and their attorneys.
Second, this Protective Order only wants from the California Department of Education (not individual school districts) “information that it stores on databases and network drives that contain protected personal information of children, including children with disabilities, children who requested an assessment or who were assessed for special education eligibility, and children who are attending, or who have attended, a California school at any time since January 1, 2008.”
This is NOT information taken directly from ANY school district. No school district is a Defendant in this matter, only the California Department of Education is.
Third, it is also important to understand that the Court has taken many steps to protect the PRIVACY of this disclosed information. The Court has the help of a “Special Master” basically an expert in the area of cyber security and date breach prevention who will make sure that the Plaintiffs’ attorneys and experts have their security measures certified and that they will follow strict standards to make sure the information in their hands stays in their hands only. Furthermore, the Court has also appointed a Magistrate Judge who will work with the Special Master to make sure everything put in place to protect the privacy of this information stays secure.
Now, warnings from school districts are telling you to opt out of this release of information. But did your school district inform you about the case? Did they tell you WHO specifically will review the information or WHY they need the information? Probably not.
This case is huge and if Plaintiffs can prove that the California Department of Education was not actively overseeing school districts, then this may also prove that school districts are actively violating the federal law.