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Shifting the burden

Parents in Polk County, Fla., were surprised and more than a little angry when they learned that school uniform companies and other businesses could easily purchase information about their children from their local school system.

Down in Miami, meanwhile, the father of a 7-year-old shared that feeling after a member of the Miami-Dade County school board mailed a personal birthday card to his daughter using information he had obtained from the district.

In response to such incidents, Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would give parents more control over who gets their hands on information about their children.

Under current law, parents can block the release of information about their children that is listed in schools' student directories, but they must do so in writing.

Unless they take that step, districts can release the information, which includes children's name, date and place of birth, address, telephone number, and participation in sports or other activities—and even their weight and height if they are athletes.

A bill introduced by Rep. J.D. Alexander, a Republican, would turn the tables by requiring districts to obtain written permission from parents each time they release student data from the directory.

The bill has unanimously passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate.

"Any time we make sure we give parents options to protect the safety of their kids, it's a great thing to do," Mr. Alexander said.

Marilyn Spiegel, the president of the Dade County PTA, said she was shocked when she learned that detailed information on students was routinely available.

"I would hope school systems would be very prudent with where they release information, but it should be a parent's decision," she said. "It is a student-safety issue."

—John Gehring

Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 33

Published in Print: April 19, 2000, as State Journal

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