After reading through an opinion piece written by William R. Harbron Ed.D, superintendent of the Dover School District in Dover: Education in Dover: What is social and emotional learning and why you should care, I noticed he left many important issues out of this new federal education policy that parents need to be aware of.

Should government schools collect and store sensitive information on students? Social and emotional learning is the very definition of addressing mental health in the public schools. Harbron left out critical information that every parents should be aware of when the district decides to dabble in the mental health of their children. Especially since SEL is applied to all children and embedded in the curriculum.

Regulatory changes removed legal barriers to the collection and sharing of personal data on students and their families. Since 2002, the federal government has incentivized states to build massive data-bases to collect information on students and their families. Nothing in Harbron’s article addressed privacy protections or the education and clinical training of those now charged with providing this new kind of mental health to students in the classroom.

SEL data goes way beyond academic performance or bio-graphical information.  This information can include a student’s discipline history and social and emotional development.

In certain instances this kind of information can be shared without student or parental knowledge or consent. These kinds of data-bases make children and their families subject to research without any ethical boundaries. It is important to protect persons with diminished autonomy so that they enter into research voluntarily and with adequate information. Protecting children against the dangers of being involved in research is critical and ethical.

We hear on a daily basis about companies and government agencies being hacked. Or in the case of the College Board, information is collected then sold to the highest bidder.

Holding this kind of data can have an intimidating effect, even if that data is never used. Psychological and mental health SEL data held by the government changes our relationship.  Our Republic rests on the idea that the citizen will direct government. That ceases to exist when the government sits in a position of intimidation over the individual. This was discussed a public hearing with the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking who conducted hearings on what kind of data they should include in a data-clearing-house.

Some people testified in support of sharing as much information as possible on children but, there were privacy experts who testified to the importance of never collecting personally identifiable information on students. Parents need to know that are businesses will always want to profit off of personal data they can access for free.

Parents should have the means to inspect all data/curriculum on SEL and know exactly where that information will be stored or shared. Many privacy policies offered by vendors who profit off of SEL products, are anything but private. You will read about references to sharing information with 3rd party vendors and market research in their privacy policy.

Can a parent correct their child’s record know who has access to this sensitive information?  Where are the checks and balances when it comes to the data collected on students? Who is looking out for children and their families when it comes to keeping this data private and secure? In the case of SEL, this sensitive data is often collected by the classroom teacher.  Do they have to follow a code of ethics on keeping the SEL data private? If teachers share this information, are they subject to loss of licensure the way professionals outside the school would be? Where is the accountability to parents and children when it comes to their personal data?

Finally, federal law does include a provision that requires informed parental consent when assessing or treating a student’s mental health. SEL is the definition of mental health and, all of the literature confirms that. Unfortunately, school administrators have indicated they do not have to follow the law.  They do not have an advanced degree in the mental health field so what they may see as behavior modification programs, may indeed cross over into the mental health treatment of children.  All they have to do is look at the literature on SEL to see the references to mental health.

A physician in New Hampshire warned parents a few years ago when she wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal and, referenced the lack of privacy protection laws when schools develop a psychological profile on children using some of these SEL programs in the schools. Many schools in New Hampshire are already sharing this sensitive data with universities and not informing parents that their child’s data is now being used for research on SEL programs.

Everyone wants to support children emotionally and socially.  We all agree on that goal.  The difference is, this is now a federal policy that includes a massive amount of data collection on all children attending a public school.

Superintendents need to do more to learn about this potential of a violation of privacy and share that information with the public instead of offering a marketing pitch on SEL.

Ann Marie Banfield has been researching education and working as an activist for over a decade. She has traveled to Concord to lobby on behalf of parental rights and literacy. Working with experts in education from across the country, she offers valuable insight into problems and successes in education. She holds a B.A. in Business Management from Franklin University in Columbus Ohio. Ann Marie and her husband have three children and reside in Hampton, NH