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Student data privacy, charter security guard bills advance

A bill designed to lock student data privacy protections into state law got some additional provisions tacked onto it Monday and won 12-0 approval by the House Education Committee.

The committee also passed a bill allowing charter schools to hire armed security guards, something school districts already may do. The measure is kind of a bipartisan consolation measure to replace another guns-in-schools bill killed earlier.

The data measure, House Bill 14-1294, applies primarily to the Department of Education, and its original version included things that CDE said it already is doing.

The bill does not address two things privacy activists have pushed for, data security mandates on local districts and parental opt out of data collection and disclosure. Legislators want to pass something on data this year to respond to rising public concerns. But lawmakers aren’t ready to impose new requirements on districts during a session when political tensions already are high over school funding and other earmarked programs.

Provisions added to the bill by House Education would require CDE to publicly disclose the names of outside agencies and companies with which it shares data, to develop specific criteria for how and when data is destroyed, to limit contractor disclosure of data and ban contractor use for commercial purposes. Language added to the bill also bans CDE from selling student data for commercial use. (The department says now it doesn’t sell data.)

Sponsor Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, credited activists with helping her improve the bill. “We did hear some excellent testimony from the self-described ‘Jeffco moms,’” she said. “We have taken most of their suggestions.” (The committee heard testimony on the bill March 12.)

Provisions in the introduced version of the bill require CDE to prepare a publicly available “data inventory,” to comply with all relevant federal and other privacy laws, to set formal requirements for use of data by outside vendors such as testing companies and to formalize its process for considering outside requests for student data.

The bill also requires CDE to create a “data security template” for districts to use. Amendments added Monday require that template to include information about data security for online education and for other software and apps and also guidance for districts about publishing lists of outside vendors. Again, nothing in the bill requires districts to take any specific actions.

Strong vote for charter armed guards bill

The committee voted 11-1 to pass House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards.

Existing law already gives school districts authority to hire school resource officers, who are certified police officers, or security guards who don’t necessarily have to have the same training but must have concealed weapons permits and who are hired by contract.

HB 14-1291 was offered as a bipartisan substitute after majority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee killed a different measure, House Bill 14-1157, on Feb. 13 (see story). That bill would have given school boards the option to allow staff members with concealed carry permits to bring weapons to school.

Discussion Monday highlighted that current law pretty much allows districts to do what HB 14-1157 would have allowed. The security-guard law apparently does allow districts to designate current staff members, including administrators and teachers, as security guards, albeit with separate contracts to perform that function.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, noted that the small school district in Dove Creek has done just that.

When Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, asked if that was possible, sponsor Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, confirmed that it was.

“Is this an end-around on the issue of teachers carrying weapons?” Peniston contnued.

“I wouldn’t think of it as an end-around,” replied bill cosponsor Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Windsor.

“This is in statute,” said Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver. “If that was an attempt to arm teachers it would have already happened.”

Peniston ultimately voted for the bill but said, “This statute raises some clear red flags for me.” Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was the only no vote, saying, “I do not believe arming security guards and teachers is the right thing to do.”

The issue of guns in schools has gotten caught up in larger Democratic-Republican battles about gun control. But some small districts and charters support more local flexibility because they can’t afford to hire SROs, and some rural districts feel they need armed staff members because of remoteness from police and sheriffs’ offices.