Congressman Asks House Education Committee To Look At Pre-Crime Program Targeting Florida Schoolkids
from the legitimate-use-of-'won't-someone-think-of-the-children?' dept
Late last year, the Tampa Bay Times broke the news the local sheriff’s office had set up a “pre-crime” program targeting schoolkids in Pasco County. The same program used by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to harass residents into “moving or suing” (yes, those are the Sheriff’s words) had been retooled to target minors, utilizing highly questionable access to students’ records.
Some deputies made dozens of visits a year to residents that the Office had declared pre-criminals, citing them missing mailbox numbers or overgrown grass. What’s in line for students being subjected to the same scrutiny isn’t clear, but the Sheriff’s broad list of indicators is pretty disturbing. According to the Sheriff, potentially criminal minors were students with low grades, spotty attendance, and/or were victims/witnesses of domestic violence.
The program itself was disturbing. But the Sheriff’s access to student records appeared to be illegal. A privacy group dug into the laws surrounding the use of student records and came to the conclusion this program violated federal privacy protection laws, namely FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act).
While educators may have been able to share some records with School Resource Officers working with the Sheriff’s Department, they were forbidden from sharing those records with the Sheriff’s Office — at least not without parental consent. Parental involvement in any of this pre-crime BS appears to be minimal. In fact, most parents (and administrators) appeared to be unaware the program even existed before the Tampa Bay Times uncovered it with public records requests.
Now the program has drawn the attention of Congress.
Denouncing the program as promoting “racial bias” and further feeding the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a U.S. congressman Tuesday called for a federal investigation into the Pasco school district’s practice of sharing student data with law enforcement.
“This use of student records goes against the letter and the spirit of (the federal student privacy law) and risks subjecting students, especially Black and Latino students, to excessive law enforcement interactions and stigmatization,” said U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, in a letter to the acting federal education secretary.
The letter [PDF] points out the Sheriff’s program blatantly ignores FERPA to give the Office a way to turn students into criminals, even if they have never committed a crime in their (short) lives.
Despite these clear restrictions, a recently uncovered “Intelligence-Led Policing Manual” indicates that a public school district has been releasing FERPA-protected education records to its local sheriff’s office, so that the sheriff can “identify at-risk youth who are destined to a life of crime.” The sheriff’s office collects information from FERPA-protected records on “student’s grades, attendance, and behavior.” Using these records, the sheriff categorizes students by what it claims is their likelihood of “becoming prolific offenders” effectively creating a school to prison pipeline and determining their outcomes for them. Additionally, the sheriff collects data from other state agencies on children’s social networks and whether children have experienced abuse or other trauma, which it claims “significantly increase[s] their likelihood of developing into serious, violent, and chronic . . . offenders.” To be clear, though the sheriff’s intelligence report refers to these children as “potential offenders,” this is not a list of juvenile offenders, but a list of children that may have committed no crimes.
More locally, the Pasco County Parents and Teachers Association is calling for the school district to reconsider its data-sharing agreements with the Sheriff’s Office and to ensure its participation is actually lawful. More reasonable parents are demanding the program be stopped completely.
So far, the school district has only offered this vapid statement:
The school district said it planned to “assure the PTA County Council that our agreements with the Sheriff’s Office are routinely reviewed and, when appropriate, revised or updated.”
Obviously, this isn’t true. If they were routinely reviewed, someone who actually gave a damn would have spotted the federal privacy law violations well before a local newspaper and privacy activists did. This statement means nothing more than the district is waiting for the furor to die down before getting back to pre-crime business as usual.
And the last sentence of this paragraph pretty much directly contradicts the hollow claim data-sharing agreements are “routinely reviewed.”
But asked directly, [the district] declined to say whether it would act on any of the PTA’s requests, whether it was reviewing the Sheriff’s Office program, or whether Superintendent Kurt Browning had learned anything about the program since he told a reporter he was unaware data was being used this way in September.
The district’s apparent plan to wait this thing out isn’t working. At least not yet. It’s been on the radar since last November. And now it’s going federal. Someone’s going to be forced to take some action soon. Hopefully, it will be the school district reaching for the program’s cord and pulling the plug on this abomination attempting to pass itself off as good police work.