Judge Dismisses New York Parents’ Lawsuit Against inBloom

By Benjamin Herold — February 10, 2014 3 min read
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A New York state judge has dismissed a petition filed by a group of New York City parents seeking to halt the state education department’s controversial relationship with inBloom, a nonprofit seeking to warehouse sensitive student information.

The New York State Department of Education, Commissioner John B. King, and the Board of Regents of the State University of New York “have met their burden to show there was a reasonable basis for the decision to enter into the agreement with inBloom and that the disclosure and transfer of data will be for a legitimate purpose,” wrote Justice Thomas A. Breslin in a decision dated Feb. 5.

The lawsuit was just one in a series of recent blows to inBloom, founded in 2013 with $100 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Atlanta-based nonprofit seeks to partner with states and districts to collect and synthesize reams of student data, store the information in cloud-based servers, and make the information available to educators and others via easy-to-use data dashboards and other tools, some of which would be developed by third-party vendors approved by participating districts.

Six of the nine states initially listed as partners with inBloom have since dissolved their relationships with the group, and pressure for New York to follow suit has come from parents and some school leaders. The state department of education has partnered with inBloom as part of its EngageNY Data Portal, which seeks to provide real-time data and personalized content for educators and parents. All New York schools receiving federal Race to the Top funding must participate in the portal, although a number have dropped out over privacy and other concerns.

The group of 12 New York City parents, who filed their suit in November, have called the inBloom partnership a massive and unwarranted invasion of student privacy. They sought the nullification of a service agreement between the New York education department and inBloom; the destruction of any data that had already been transferred to the nonprofit; a prohibition on the disclosure of any personally identifiable student information without parental consent; and injunctions preventing the uploading of any personal student data to third-party vendors.

Parent activist Leonie Haimson, who was not a party to the lawsuit but whose organization, Class Size Matters, helped support the plaintiffs and has been a vocal opponent of the partnership with inBloom, called the decision “nonsensical in many ways” and full of “slipshod and circular reasoning” in a post on her blog.

A spokesman for inBloom did not immediately return a request for comment.

In his decision, Breslin determined that the education department’s agreement with inBloom was not in violation of the Personal Privacy Protection Law and that disclosure of personal information by a public agency is allowable “if it is necessary to the performance of the duties and purpose of the agency.”

Breslin also wrote that the department’s decision “to utilize a third party vendor to design and effectuate the portal and the dashboard systems was not unlawful” because it “was made to carry out the duties of the agency which is promote and further the educational process and supervise all public schools.”

And while “concerns about hacking and unauthorized access are significant,” he wrote, “respondents, consistent with statutory requirements, have shown that steps have been taken to protect this information...It is helpful to know that respondents have indicated, in an affidavit submitted by a person with knowledge, that the new system can support more security features than that which is currently available in the systems which are being used by local school districts.”

In an email, Haimson wrote that the plaintiffs have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision, but “will continue fighting through the legislature to stop the state from going forward” with inBloom.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.