School Committee to urge Portland parents not to turn over kids' Social Security numbers

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PORTLAND — The School Committee next week will consider a resolution opposing a new state program for tracking student performance by collecting Social Security numbers.

This is the first year school districts are required by the state to ask parents to provide their children’s Social Security numbers. The new program seeks to track student progress through their college years and into the workplace in an effort to improve public school curriculum.

Although districts are required to ask for students for their Social Security numbers, the School Committee wants parents to know they are under no obligation to provide the information.

“The important thing for parents to know right now is that there is no penalty for failing to provide your child’s Social Security number,” School Committee member Justin Costa said.

Parents, including School Committee members with children in public schools, have expressed concern the new requirement will increase the likelihood of identity theft.

“I will not be providing either of my children’s information when they come home,” said committee member Sarah Thompson, whose daughters are in the sixth and 11th grades.

Thompson said she is concerned about identity theft, because the forms used to collect the numbers will pass through “many hands” and will be “wide open for all to see and record along the way.”

“Young people and old alike fall prey to people looking to steal identities,” she said. “It is not to say that I do not trust the School Department and/or state, but it I do not trust that the information will be safe.”

Costa and Thompson said the state already assigns unique identifiers to students, which could be used track students through their school years.

According to a draft of the resolution, each student’s Social Security number will be stored in a database that is accessible to not only the DOE, but also the state Department of Labor.

The draft states that the Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year and notes two significant security breaches at the state level:

In 2006, the Veterans Administration had a computer file stolen containing 26.5 million Social Security numbers, and in 2008-2009, the Finance Authority of Maine mistakenly mailed Social Security numbers of some individuals on forms to the wrong recipients.

“Until the state can address these privacy concerns to our satisfaction, and until they demonstrate that the information being gathered is properly secured, we won’t in good conscience be able to encourage parents to participate,” Costa said.

School Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton said the committee will review and vote on the resolution at its Sept. 15 meeting.

When it comes forward, Eglinton, a parent of elementary and middle school students, said he will be among those recommending parents withhold the information.

“I recognize that Social Security numbers represent a useful mechanism for linking information across state and federal agencies” Eglinton said. “But I am also wary of the increasing risk of identity theft in our society.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected].