Information sharing vital to safety in Mass. schools
The Lowell Sun
November 17, 2011
Written by Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone
Recent events have highlighted the merits of the concept behind making basic information on campus crimes and arrests available to the public.
Information sharing is a commonsense safety concept that should be readily adopted and more often exercised by all schools and is especially important for secondary and elementary schools. One area of information sharing that is especially important for secondary and elementary schools regards the full and complete transferring of school records.
Under current state and federal law, student information and records should contain all relevant information about a student’s personal and disciplinary history that is likely to bear upon the safety of that student and others. However, we’ve seen student transfers and placements occur in our secondary and elementary schools when, in the aftermath of a tragedy or near-tragedy, it is learned that the student who either committed or attempted to commit violence on school grounds was known by his or her previous educational setting or placement to pose a threat to themselves, other students, or the public safety in general.
We are left asking why this significant information was not provided to the receiving school where the student appeared or transferred. It is unacceptable for persons who possess a behavioral or disciplinary history that exhibits a clear risk to others, to be placed or transferred in educational settings without full and complete information relevant to safety being shared with the receiving party, who can then take necessary or preferred precautionary steps.
The fact of the matter is there are a few different factors for why this information sharing isn’t happening adequately. Sometimes, this information sharing gap is because we are relying upon a parent or guardian being the messenger; or a complete copy of individualized special education records are not properly transferred; or someone has a financial stake in the transfer making decisions; or oftentimes there is not a reliable history to be transferred to begin with, such as with inter jurisdictional transfers.
Additionally, a student facing the prospect of expulsion can instead engage in a preemptive withdraw from that school prior to expulsion. Consequently, the school may not be compelled to send complete information to the new school about the student’s past behavioral and disciplinary problems, or even criminal behavior, preventing the history from becoming part of the school’s record and thereby avoiding the necessity to provide the information to the new receiving school. Thus, the receiving school may be denied the information it needs to take precautions and prepare for the student’s educational program and prevent future problems that are likely or foreseeable.
A receiving school should be entitled to the fullest possible record of academic, personal, behavioral, and disciplinary information from a sending country, state, town or city, or educational institution for the purpose of providing needed services to the student while anticipating and hopefully preventing violence at the new school.
The confusion around rules, regulations, and protocols concerning the transfer of students and student information and records places schools at a serious disadvantage in keeping their schools safe under the dictates of MGL c. 71; Section 37 H1/2 (discussing suspension and expulsion of students) and related laws, and provides a big disincentive to share relevant and valuable information due to fear of sharing what might be deemed privileged or confidential. This disconnect in information sharing by and to schools is an obvious public safety problem, which has resulted in real tragedies in Middlesex County and across this country.
To be sure, privacy rights are important and must be protected, so long as the information that is legally and lawfully allowed to be shared is indeed being provided to those in charge of keeping our children safe. We as parents want our kids returned safely to us when they leave our homes each day. We are entitled to that expectation, and there is a lot more we can do to maximize that happening with more certainty.