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State Journal: Big Brother wins; Small papers lose

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A battle by several Ohio districts to block statewide electronic collection of student records has been thwarted--for now.

The Ohio Supreme Court recently declined to review a lower court's order that local school officials submit student information to a state database. Several districts had sued, arguing that collecting students' Social Security numbers, juvenile-court records, and socio-economic characteristics violated the children's and their families' privacy.

"A lot of parents don't even want the secretaries entering the data to know about some of this," said Richard A. Denoyer, the superintendent of the 7,000-student Princeton district, one of the plaintiffs. Expect wary parents to take up the fight now, he warned.

The state has scaled back its questioning since the first case was filed nearly four years ago. But critics are still worried that a student's secrets--a pregnancy, for example--could become public.

State education officials argue that they are bound by federal law to collect some sensitive information. And, they said, their database records aggregate statistics, not names.

An effort by South Dakota lawmakers to free localities from at least one state mandate could mean the death knell for some small newspapers.

School districts are now required to publish their spending reports in newspapers. But a bill moving through the House could remove the mandate and give local governments the option of either printing the details in newspapers or making them available at libraries.

According to Rep. Jan Nicolay, who works as a Sioux Falls high school principal, the current law costs her district $20,000 to $30,000 a year.

But Keith Jensen, the general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, disputed that figure and argued that publication of spending practices helps taxpayers hold their school boards accountable. The price, he said, adds up to a minuscule portion of a district's budget.

Lola Schreiber, the chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said the details of the proposal would not be known until this week. Lawmakers voted down a similar bill in last year's legislative session, fearing it might push some small papers out of business.

Drew Lindsay & Laura Miller

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