Editor's note: Last week, Arlington’s schools superintendent containing approximate address information of special education students that she said was released mistakenly. The following is a response letter from Trish Orlovsky, chair of Arlington's Special Education Parents Advisory Council. This letter has been sent to the and Superintendent Kathleen Bodie.
As the SEPAC chair in Arlington and a citizen, I hear feedback from many parents on a variety of issues. The recent event of the superintendent releasing to the School Committee and then to the press, a map pinpointing the residences of children with special needs (designated as "sped students" on her map), is more than merely a case of administrative carelessness. As superintendent of the schools, Dr. Bodie is charged with ensuring that the rights and safeguarding the identities and personally identifying information of all students with disabilities. Her creating and releasing this map to the public shows her ignorance of her duties or disregard for the law—both of which are very concerning to parents and a violation of our trust and perhaps a violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Hearing from many parents and thinking of my own child, I am angry with the superintendent because her negligence has put my child, and every other Arlington child with special needs, in harm's way. Any person with ill intentions and decent skills at searching the internet can find this map and pinpoint the streets where every child with special needs lives. I'm not the only parent who is now become more vigilant at watching street traffic and any cars or persons lingering in the neighborhood, because everyone can see streets and locations of our children. I feel less secure and am worried even more about the safety of my already-vulnerable child with special needs. All this thanks to the superintendent.
So the questions I want answered are:
- Who authorized and created this map targeting students with special needs and what did it cost?
- What was its purpose?
- Why was this map ever shown to the School Committee and released to the public? (as it then became a public document)
- What should the superintendent have known but didn't?
- And what steps need to be taken to ensure this never occurs again?
While we appreciate her letter of apology to parents, it does not begin to make amends for the damage done. I sincerely hope the administration takes full responsibility for this, with the School Committee, and conducts a complete investigation, as well as comprehensive recommendations and steps to ensure this will not ever happen again.
The loss of trust is significant and the superintendent has much to account for.
We look forward to a response to how this will be rectified.
Trish Orlovsky, Arlington SEPAC chair