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New policy proposed to protect student files after some were used in US deportation actions

In at least two cases, school incident reports have been used by immigration authorities to make the case to deport students, according to their lawyers.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2018

Following the disclosure that city authorities had shared information about dozens of students with law enforcement, Boston’s mayor and schools superintendent on Thursday outlined a proposal that’s intended to clarify protocols for student records and help Boston Public Schools officials respond to requests from police.

Asked about the differences between the current policy and the new one, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said, “There’s going to be a bright line between what is and what is not shared."

It was revealed earlier this year that city agencies had shared information about students more than 100 times from 2014 to 2018 with a Boston-area intelligence-sharing network that includes an agent from the Department of Homeland Security.


The Globe has reported that documents obtained through a lawsuit filed by a civil rights organization and others contradict previous statements from school officials that data about students had been shared with federal authorities only once.

In at least two cases, school incident reports were used by immigration authorities to make the case to deport students, according to their lawyers, the Globe has reported.

Under the updated policy, all school employees, including police officers who work in schools, will be trained annually about all relevant laws regarding the privacy of education records, officials said at a briefing. The school district has its own police, who are separate from the Boston Police Department.

The policy will be presented to the Boston School Committee March 18. School officials expect a vote on it March 25.

Some teachers criticized the plan, however, saying it lacks clear criteria for when school reports can be shared with police. Nora Paul-Schultz, a high school physics teacher who cochairs the Boston Teachers Union’s immigrant rights organizing committee, said the proposal does not go far enough to protect students.

“It also doesn’t put into place a way for families and students to know that information has been shared with Boston police,” Paul-Schultz said.


Lena Papagiannis, a high school history teacher who cochairs the committee with Paul-Schultz, said that existing policy is so broad it could be deemed useless, She agreed the new plan doesn’t go far enough to address the inadequacies.

The school district, in a statement, said the superintendent and her team have met with advocates, including the immigrant rights organizing committee, several times since the start of the school year to discuss student records and privacy.

“Boston Public Schools will continue to seek guidance and partnership from multiple stakeholders who are invested in our shared goals of keeping our students safe and their private information secure,” read the statement. “We look forward to continuing our efforts to ensure all of our schools are safe and welcoming places for our students to learn.”

Student education records are protected by federal law; only parents, guardians and students older than 14 or above the ninth grade have a legal right to control access to the records, according to city officials.

If adopted, the school district’s new policy would call for students and parents to be notified annually of their rights with a guide that would include what kind of information can be legally released without their consent. The guide would also explain which information can’t be released without consent.

And barring a circumstance such as being subpoenaed or a health or safety emergency, only the student, parent, and school personnel are allowed access to information in a student’s record, city officials said.


Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Thursday that the proposal was about eliminating fear.

“There should be no one in our city, regardless of their status, that has concern about walking down the street, that has concern about sending their kids to school,” he said.

The district will develop a protocol for approving the disclosure of school police records to other law enforcement entities, according to Thursday’s announcement.

Protocols are needed, officials said, to ensure that law enforcement records shared with authorities outside of the school district do not contain protected student education information.

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, in a statement, commended Walsh and Cassellius "for looking at ways that we can strengthen our policies to make everyone who is part of our school communities safer.”

Bianca Vázquez Toness of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.