School tracking board doesn’t contravene privacy provisions, comissioner rules

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KAGAWONG—The Rainbow District School Board-Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) student tracking board does not contravene the privacy provisions of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), an analyst with the Information and Privacy Commissioner has concluded. And the parent of a student at the school, who had forwarded a complaint to the privacy commission concerning the tracking board originally, is satisfied with measures the school has taken concerning the listing of students on the tracking board.

“Basically the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario concluded that because of changes made by the school board, the school is not in contravention with the MFIPPA,” said Kim Bilbija of Kagawong, whose daughter is a student at MSS.

“The tracking board is now securely stored and covered by a curtain,” said Ms. Bilbija, noting that when she was first alerted to her daughter being on the school’s tracking board she did not feel it was secure in the staff room, which was open and unlocked. “Now the room is locked and the board is covered, and if you look at the board right now, there is no student listed on the board, according to a teacher I talked to at the school. So I basically got what I wanted to on this issue—the tracking board should not be visible to everyone and the room needed to be more secure.”

“And now information on the tracking board is on student report cards and is brought up at parent-teacher conferences,” said Ms. Bilbija. “But will the teacher automatically tell the parent of a student that their child’s name is on the tracking board? Anyone I’ve talked to in the past provided the same reaction, ‘why is my child on a tracking board?’”

Ms. Bilbija had sent a letter of complaint to the privacy commission after attending a parent teacher night at the school in March 2012, at which time she was asked by a teacher why her daughter might be on the school’s tracking board. At the time Ms. Bilbija had never heard of a tracking board and she made several inquiries, including where the tracking board was located, what it displayed, why, and for what length of time. She was able to walk into the school’s staff room that night and view the tracking board itself.

As Ms. Bilbija has explained that the bright yellow tracking board was posted on a wall in the staff room. It was approximately 8×10 feet in size with black letters measuring 10-12 inches that identified the board as the tracking board. Student-specific index cards were stapled onto the tracking board portraying photographs of the students and included details such as their names, courses, and whether each student was passing or failing each course.

It was Ms. Bilbija’s position that the school and the RDSB had contravened the privacy provision of MFIPPA by displaying her daughter’s personal information on the tracking board in the staff room at the school. Specifically the concern that the board was openly displayed and accessible to everyone who accesses the staff room, including principals, teachers, custodians, bus drivers and teachers from other schools and collected, used and disclosed for the creation and continuing display of the tracking board without the knowledge or consent of the students, their parents and/or their legal guardians.

“It is your position that the school and the board should find an alternative way to track students since the tracking board distributes preconceived ideas of students to persons other than those to which a student is in direct contact for the purposes of their education,” Jessica Leinwand, an analyst with the ICPC, wrote in a report on the complaint to Ms. Bilbija dated October 11, 2012. “I contacted the Ministry of Education (the ministry) and the board to seek a response to your complaint.”

Ms. Leinwand reported that in speaking to Karen Fabbro-Cobb, education officer at the ministry, she confirmed that she had discussion on the use of the tracking board with the board’s superintendent, Bruce Bourget. Although not mandated by the ministry, the ministry supports the use of tracking boards in a variety of formats, she wrote. Ms. Fabbro-Cobb explained that the use of tracking boards is a positive student success strategy that was initiated by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.

Nicole Charette, senior advisor of corporate communications and strategic planning at the board, confirmed that all of the board’s secondary schools use tracking boards and that the tracking boards exist in a variety of formats, i.e. fixed, portable and electronic, wrote Ms. Leinwand. Ms. Charette said that the tracking boards include the following information about students: name, grade, teachers, credits attempted, credits earner, developmental reading assessment information, Otis Lennon School achievement Test information, student photo, lates and absences, current courses attempted and Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test results. She advised that tracking boards are displayed or stored in areas with limited access, such as locked staff rooms and principal’s offices and that portable tracking boards are brought into meetings as needed. When not in use, the tracking boards are covered.

Ms. Leinwand explained the RDSB position is that the personal information that is displayed on the tracking boards is collected, used and disclosed in accordance with the Education Act and MFIPPA. “According to Ms. Charette, the board relies upon the ministry’s Student Success Strategy to share information among staff as the information pertains to the students and their educational well-being. The board was introduced to the concept of tracking board at a ministry presentation several years ago and the use of tracking boards has been implemented as a best practice in supporting Ontario’s Student Success Strategy. The strategy emphasizes building community culture and caring such that everyone works together to support students and their success in school. Success means that students earn the credits required to obtain their Ontario Secondary School diplomas. The tracking board is an internal communications tool that assists in engaging staff members in a rich dialogue about the students to support their success in school across disciplines.”

Ms. Charette advised that every board employee is required to sign a confidentiality agreement with respect to the personal information that exists in schools, and these agreements recognize the importance of respecting the privacy of the individuals to whom the information related, wrote Ms. Leinwand. “Regarding the school’s tracking board in particular, Ms. Charette confirmed the following: the fixed tracking board is posted in the staff room; the staff room is for board employees, not for the public; the staff room is locked and it is only accessible to board employees; the tracking board is now covered by a cloth unless it is being used by staff for engaging in dialogue about working together to support student success; and the information on the tracking board is shared with parents through report cards and parent teachers conferences.”

“Finally, Ms. Charette explained that at this time, other alternatives for this tracking board cannot be considered,” wrote Ms. Leinwand. “The best method at the school is for staff to track students and engage in dialogue to support student success across disciplines by using the fixed tracking board, through visual presentation in the staff room.

“I have carefully reviewed all of the information available to me as it pertains to your complaint, and it is my preliminary view that I accept the board’s explanation that the school’s tracking board does not contravene the privacy provisions of MFIPPA,” continued Ms. Leinwand.

Ms. Leinwand continued, “I am satisfied with the board’s explanation for the following reasons: the ministry supports the use of tracking boards in a variety of formats and the use of tracking boards is a positive student success strategy; the personal information is being collected, used and disclosed in accordance with the education act and MFIPPA; every board employee is required to sign a confidentiality agreement with respect to the personal information that exists in schools and that recognizes the importance of respecting the privacy of the individuals to whom the information relates; and the school has taken the following steps to address your concerns: the tracking board is securely posted in a room that is designated for staff; the staff room is locked and it is only accessible to board employees; the tracking board is now covered by a cloth unless it is being used by staff for engaging in dialogue about working together to support student success; and the information on the tracking board is shared with parents through report cards and parent-teacher conferences.”

Tom Sasvari

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