Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Parents Angry After Florida Educators Obtain Student Information Without Permission
by Casie Kolbinsky

POLK COUNTY, F.L.-- Many parents are complaining after officials from a Florida school district obtained the biometric information of their students without parental approval.

Educators of the Polk County School District sent out a letter to parents in May stating a new program would track students who rode the bus using each child's iris. Parents had the choice to opt out. However, reports say the company, Stanley Convergent Solutions, had already obtained the information of more than 700 students before the parents learned about the program.

Additional mishaps then occurred, including the permission of Stanley Convergent to scan students' eyes without the finalization of a contract.

Then-interim School Superintendent John Stewart was reportedly unaware about the program until the scans had already taken place.

Sources say Rob Davis, a district administrator, acknowledged the mistakes and said the district had created changes to ensure this type of incident never happened again.

Meanwhile, reports say Stanley Convergent told the district it had deleted all the students' information.

However, some parents said they do not believe the company, saying nothing from the Internet is every truly gone.

Connie Turlington said she felt upset after educators scanned her 11-year-old son at Davenport School of the Arts. She said the errors did not appear coincidental.

"It sounds like a simple case of, 'It's better to ask forgiveness than permission,'" she reportedly said.

April Serrano, the mother of an 8-year-old boy who had his eyes scanned at Bethune Academy, said she didn't entirely believe the reasons the district gave for the system. The district said parents of students who rode the bus called daily to ask where their children were, which caused officials to frantically try to find the student and learn where the student left the bus, sources say.

"They have no concept of what they've done here," she reportedly said.

Reports say School Board Attorney Wes Bridges called the mistakes "a comedy of errors."

This eye-scanning system was the latest program planned by the Polk County School District. Administrators wanted to use fingerprints of students in 2009 to track down bus riders. When this program failed to follow through, officials wanted to enforce a transmitter system that would require students to bring special cards with them onto the bus. However, this program failed after many students forgot to carry their cards, sources say.

Davis said he'd thought the new eye-scanning program would begin during the 2013-2014 school year. He reportedly said he found out in May that the district had already scheduled Stanley Convergent to begin registering students to have their eyes scanned.

Sources say Davis decided to drop the pilot program after many parents complained about the use of biometric devices on school buses.