Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Update on Regents exams, state budget, Zoom and student privacy

1.First, some good news to report:The Board of Regents announced yesterday that the Regents exams due to take place this spring are cancelled. Today they put out guidance that any student who would have originally needed to pass a Regents exam to graduate in June can be issued a diploma without taking them. More details in this FAQ. Thanks to those of you who sent one of the 400 plus letters to the Regents and Commissioner about this; a Regents member mentioned receiving your letters at their meeting yesterday.

2.There's also bad news. The state budget passed last week & froze school spending at this year’s level, without raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy; given rising costs and salaries this will be experienced by many districts including NYC as cuts. The Governor was also given the authority to slash education spending further over the course of the year, depending on state revenue– though the Legislature will be able block proposed cuts with a vote within ten days.

If you’d like to see how your legislators voted on the budget, you can check out the Senate here and the Assembly here, where the vote was especially close. More on what this budget means for education compared to the outcomes that many advocates and parents hoped for is outlined in this helpful chart from AQE .

We will all have to work hard to see that the city doesn’t follow the state’s lead by drastically cutting back on its own support for education. School services and especially class sizes have STILL not yet recovered from the economic recession in 2008, more than a decade ago. It would be devastating to NYC kids for class sizes to grow even larger.

3.Late on Friday, the Chancellor announced that schools should stop using the video conferencing tool Zoom as it doesn’t comply with state student privacy law, which was passed in 2014, and it puts children’s safety and their personal data at risk in numerous ways. As this document released by the regional BOCES shows, state administrators are now in the process of negotiating a contract with Zoom that would protect student privacy, as required by the NY state law.

Other districts including Washington DC and Las Vegas have also told teachers not to use Zoom, because of similar concerns, and last July, EPIC filed a 22 page complaint to the FTC about Zoom’s practices, including how the company had "exposed users to the risk of remote surveillance, unwanted video calls, and denial-of-service attack." I understand the frustration of teachers and parents who were getting used to Zoom and wanted to continue using it, but there is no excuse for continuing to violate the law and putting kids’ personal data and safety at risk.

As I said to Education Week , the Chancellor should “negotiate a contract with Zoom that complies with state law and protects student privacy, and train teachers on how to use this app and other apps in a more responsible manner." The state regs require all districts to do such privacy trainings; I have yet to hear from a single NYC teacher who has been provided with any such guidance. There also has needs to be vigorous oversight by both DOE and the state to ensure that Zoom and other companies are abiding by their contracts and the law – such enforcement is too often lacking.

I will be providing more resources about student privacy that often is ignored by districts, especially now in the rush to adopt commercially-designed online programs. I will also be reaching out to see which online programs and apps your children’s schools are using, and what your thoughts are about the risks and rewards involved.

Hope you’re all bearing up and staying safe during these unprecedented times, Leonie

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