Updated Feb. 21.
Parents across the state are still clamoring for answers after unsolicited flyers for an online charter school showed up in mailboxes across the state, and the state Education Department is taking legal action.
Dove Charter Schools is accused of wrongfully accessing thousands of student names and addresses to send mailers to students, recruiting for its startup online charter school, Oklahoma Information & Technology School. The move riled parents who were concerned about the unauthorized release of their child’s information, Oklahoma Watch reported Friday. Social media was still buzzing about the incident Thursday.
The department on Tuesday asked an Oklahoma County judge for a temporary injunction and restraining order to prevent any further use of the students’ information. Dove’s superintendent, Ibrahim Sel, apologized for the alarm the mailers caused and said Dove has agreed to the restraining order. The information was only shared with the mailing company, which has now permanently deleted it, Sel said.
Some answers to questions that arose after news of the mailers surfaced:
How did Dove obtain the student information?
As superintendent of Dove Charter Schools, Sel was authorized to view the information of current Dove students within the state student information system, known as the Wave. He or another Dove employee used the Wave to gain unauthorized access to other students’ information, the Education Department says in its court filing.
The Wave does not allow a district official access to information of students outside their own district. “That’s why this unlawful infiltration is so serious and intolerable,” said Brad Clark, an attorney for the department. Authorized users also must sign an affidavit acknowledging the student information is protected.
In a written statement, Sel said there was no data breach and the school did not hack into the system because it is open to school officials statewide.
Many parents questioned whether their school districts gave Dove the information in response to a records request, but that was not the case. That type of directory information can’t be released unless parents have had an opportunity to first opt out.
What did Dove do with the information and when?
Dove used the student names and addresses to send recruitment letters to about 107,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students across the state through a direct mail company. Those mailers included an application for the Oklahoma Information & Technology School, which is set to open this summer with sixth and seventh grades. Additional mailers were sent to students in other grades who live in the boundaries of Dove Charter Schools, advertising its existing charter schools, which are in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Sel said, “In retrospect, the letters should have been addressed to the parents. We simply got careless.”
Is that illegal?
The department alleges that unauthorized access to the student information violated state and federal laws under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is investigating.
What was the state Education Department’s response?
Parents’ complaints began rolling in on Friday, which is when state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister told Oklahoma Watch an investigation was underway and would continue “24/7.” The department sent Dove a cease and desist letter on Saturday and the department disabled Dove’s access to the Wave. On Tuesday, the department filed for a temporary restraining order and injunction in Oklahoma County District Court. The filing also requests a judge to issue a permanent injunction.