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Homeschoolers and the Public School Student ID System

Summary: The DPI continues to assure WPA that homeschoolers should not be assigned public school student ID numbers, even if they take one or two courses in a public school. However, because school officials are often misinformed or uninformed, we need to take responsibility for ensuring that our children are not wrongfully assigned a student ID number and included in the statewide ID system, which would undermine our privacy.

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In response to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the DPI is beginning a new statewide system for assigning ID numbers to public school students and using them to collect, store, sort, and use more personal data about students than the state has ever collected before. This system undermines privacy and freedoms by allowing government officials and others access to personal information about students and families. For more details, see "Homeschoolers and the Public School Student ID System" in WPA Newsletter #79, March, 2004, p. 12.

Statements from the DPI web site included in the last newsletter outline plans for school officials to use the data in a variety of ways. In addition, because of collaboration statutes passed during the 1990's, the data can be shared with other government agencies such as public health departments, law enforcement agencies, the courts, social service agencies, etc. An innocent adult applying for a job that requires a background check, a motorist charged with a traffic violation, or a parent reported to social services by an anonymous tipster could all find information collected during their years in public school included in materials being used against them.

For more about the kind of information statewide databases of public school students could include and therefore how serious a threat they pose to our privacy, see http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/2000343.pdf. This is an on-line version of a 310-page handbook published by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency. It is designed to help states and local school districts develop student databases. To get some sense of the potential such databases have to undermine privacy, see chapter 4, Data Element Outline, which lists categories that states and districts might want to include in their database. The list is staggering and includes things like "Non-School and Post-School Experiences" and "Health Conditions."

Fortunately, at present, homeschoolers and other private school students are not included in the new database system. However, we need to be aware of the system and its consequences for two reasons. (1) There will inevitably be pressure to include all students, to make things more convenient for those collecting data and operating the system, to make the system complete, to be prepared in case private school students enroll in public schools, and for other weak reasons. (2) Individual homeschoolers may be wrongfully assigned a student ID number and included in the database, especially if they take one or more public school courses or participate in public school activities.

At present, the DPI is continuing to reassure WPA that homeschoolers are not to be assigned student ID numbers (officially called Wisconsin Student Numbers or WSNs) and/or included in the statewide database (officially called the Wisconsin Student Number Locator System or WSLS). The DPI has informed public school districts of this in writing as part of a question and answer section. The DPI asks the question: "Which students count as enrolled for WSLS purposes?" and answers:

A student is "enrolled" in your district if the student receives his/her primary PK-12 educational services either (1) directly from district employees or (2) from a third party (not another Wisconsin district) under the direct supervision of your district. Services provided by district employees or third parties might be received in a school building, library, hospital, county corrections, college, or any other location, and services include but are not limited to IEP services. (Quote from http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/dpi/dltcl/lbstat/isesfaq3.html#whocounts)

It is clear that since homeschoolers receive their primary PK-12 educational services from their homeschools and not from a public school district, they should not be included. This is true even for homeschoolers who take one or two public school courses or participate in activities sponsored by a public school district.

However, the fact that the DPI has posted this information on its web site does not guarantee that school districts will not include homeschoolers in the database system. Clerks and other administrators may not be informed or may have received incorrect information. It is easy to imagine a well-intentioned clerk who thinks that every student in the building should be in the system and therefore makes sure that homeschoolers taking one or two courses in the public school or participating in a program sponsored by the district (such as a summer recreation program) is included. It's also very possible that administrators would include homeschoolers in their databases to keep tabs on them, perhaps so they could recruit them for programs designed to increase state funding by drawing homeschoolers into the public schools. Other scenarios are possible as well.

The only way to make sure that our children are not included in the student ID system is to take the responsibility ourselves. If our children are involved in any public school courses or programs, during the process of registering them we can give officials a letter of understanding such as the one below. The letter should be addressed to the school district administrator with a copy to the principal or program director.

If homeschooled children have already been assigned an ID number, it is important to take action to get them out of the system. Call the WPA voice mail at 608-283-3131 for suggestions.

Please share this information with homeschoolers you know, especially those who are taking public school courses or participating in public school activities. If homeschoolers are included in the statewide database, it will set a precedent and make it more difficult to maintain the current policy that homeschoolers are not to be included.

One final note: Parents of public school students can reduce the damage being done by the fact that their children are included in the statewide database by formally notifying their school district in writing that none of the directory data for their child may be released. This notification requires the school district to activate the No-Release Indicator in the WSLS. The WSLS will then restrict access to the student's directory data, but it will not totally prevent it from being released to certain people. For more information, see http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/dpi/dltcl/lbstat/wsn_nrind.html.

WPA will continue to track this issue and will inform its members if proposals are made to include private school students, including homeschoolers, in the statewide public school database. If you find any information on this issue please let WPA know.

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