Report finds schools need better safeguards for records

Grand jury looks atdigital storage systems, sees risks

SAN MATEO — County high schools should implement stricter rules to protect sensitive student information — including grades — from prying eyes, a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report has found.

Though all the county’s high school districts comply with California’s laws on protecting students’ privacy on district-owned computers and other equipment, none of the districts had guidelines in place for the secure, off-site storage of personal information, the grand jury found.

Since information has become easier to transfer from location to location — with the help of laptop computers and flash memory cards — the report argued that the loss of these portable items could mean the loss of sensitive information. Theft of this information could violate personal information privacy laws, according to the report.

The grand jury therefore recommended that all of the school districts develop individual policies for printing and storing student information off-site — such as at the teacher’s home or on their personal computer.

The report also suggested that the district train faculty and administrators on the proper ways to store this information.

South San Francisco Unified Superintendent Barbara Olds said the district only issues desktop computers to help cut down the chances of information theft.

Teachers are welcome to work on grades and assignments at home — and often do — but that information is accessible only on a secure, password-only Web site. Furthermore, the information cannot be downloaded from the Internet, Olds said.

Marcia Cohn-Lyle, trustee on the San Mateo Union High School District Board, said she doesn’t recall any incidents in which sensitive student information fell into the wrong hands.

But she said the board always complies with grand jury recommendations and would beopen to examining the issue further.

“We take their recommendations very seriously,” Cohn-Lyle said.

The grand jury looked into the information security practices of the seven county school districts that include high schools, which include Cabrillo Unified, Jefferson Union, La Honda-Pescadero Unified, Ravenswood City, San Mateo Union, Sequoia Union and South San Francisco Unified School districts.

tramroop@examiner.com

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