Issaquah School District COVID-19 Data Privacy Concerns Raised

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The status of a full return to in-person learning in the Issaquah School District (ISD) remains uncertain as Covid-19 challenges impact the timing of events. School district officials, administrators, teachers and parents are all reviewing Covid-19 data to help inform their thought process and decision-making.  ISD is closely monitoring health data, and what information they share with stakeholders in the community, while respecting privacy. 

The Issaquah School District currently has a very small number of students attending in-person. Students on school property are special needs students, with limited staff to support those pupils. To protect the privacy of those individuals, an ISD official stated in public comments at prior school board meetings that ISD would not be disclosing granular details of any Covid-19 cases because the ability to identify the person would be relatively easy due to so few people in a building. Issaquah Daily has learned that potentially identifiable data is being shared, as detailed below. The archive of school board meeting agendas, minutes, videos and podcasts is available here

As officials deliberate a return to school, parents are having debates and discussion on social media. On Facebook, there are three prominent pages with active conversations pertaining to in-person schooling in Issaquah: The “INFORMED Issaquah School Community Discussion Group” is a private group with 2.4k members; The “HONEST Issaquah School District Parent Discussion Group” is a private group with 1.6k members. “ISD Parents in Support of Safe Return to Schools” is a private group with 1.3k members. 

Issaquah Daily was recently contacted over concerns about sensitive data being published in the “INFORMED” group. Screenshots were provided and available below. The source(s) who provided the data is unknown. The level of granularity of the data shared broadly conflicts with what was previously understood would not be distributed.   

Issaquah Daily determined this information should be published and if violations are occurring help prevent further dissemination. Out of respect for privacy, Issaquah Daily has redacted the names of the individuals, the sensitive details, and verified the screenshots authenticity with multiple sources. 

Issaquah Daily spoke directly with a representative from the INFORMED Facebook page who stated, “this is a community outreach page that is not directly affiliated with ISD and no employees of ISD have administrative access or roles on that page.”

Issaquah Daily received the following statement from the Issaquah School District:

“The Issaquah School District’s official website, official Facebook page, and official Twitter account (@IssaquahSchools) are the only online sources for official updates and information from the District. Please be advised that outside websites, Facebook accounts or groups, and any other media channels are not operated or endorsed by the District.” 

Issaquah Daily received the following statement from a local medical professional and community volunteer with suggestions for proper use of data for community consumption and protection of privacy:

The critical part of handling a positive COVID case at school or in the workplace is notifying those exposed as soon as possible so appropriate safety measures, such as quarantine, can start in a timely manner. This can happen with minimal details shared with the necessary people.

When reporting COVID cases and notifying those affected who need to quarantine, it is essential to remember that the amount of information that is necessary to be shared varies greatly depending on your proximity to the situation. Handling and reporting this information transparently but also appropriately helps prevent unnecessary public panic.

When so few classes are in session in school buildings, extra caution is needed to maintain privacy regarding COVID exposures. Identifying specifics for a person diagnosed COVID positive, such as the number of siblings a child has, the number of classmates, number of paraprofessional and certified staff (teachers) in the class, the fact that the student rides the bus, etc. essentially allows a large audience, with varying degrees of proximity to the situation, to directly identify the affected individual. If such detailed information is being shared by district employees and then published, this is a concerning security breach.

It is more appropriate (and in compliance with EEOC) to announce things like, “There was a confirmed COVID positive case in XX building, dates of exposure include X, Y, Z. All exposed individuals have been notified to quarantine until XX date.” It is also important to note that such an announcement is appropriate for building staff only. For the larger community, adding positive cases broken down by school, to the district wide dashboard is the appropriate level of detail for the general public. Certainly no one should be informed of the health status of, or number of siblings, of a COVID positive individual.

Local childcare centers have shared things like: An individual in our school tested positive this week. The affected families were notified of the exposure and that classroom has closed until XX date. As of this time no additional cases have been confirmed from those in quarantine. To protect the individuals privacy we cannot share if it was a child or staff that tested positive.

It is important to note that breaking down data to report infections in students vs staff in the school setting is very beneficial when logged in larger databases, or reported per school location. Doing so can be successfully implemented without supplying the granular detail that was posted this week about ISD.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws regarding COVID are explained here. The 3rd paragraph under section B5 is of interest.”

In the following screenshots readers will see the following:

  • Examples of the data shared with redactions.
  • Audience members inquiring about source of data.
  • The approved ISD Covid-19 dashboard for public consumption.

Data Sharing Example

Request For Source of Data

Example of Issaquah School District Dashboard

 

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