School leaves student data at public recycling center

Victor Skinner,

IOWA CITY, Iowa – An Iowa school district is re-evaluating its procedures for disposing of old student documents after a college student came across documents at a recycling center with confidential information.

Iowa State University student Antonio Montoya told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that he was at the City Carton Recycling center on March 19 when he came across a bin full of student documents that detailed personal education plans for students with disabilities.

The documents, left in plain sight, contained names, birthdays, genders, grade levels, as well as parents’ names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for a total of 14 students at Grant Wood Elementary.

“It just felt so wrong to leave that sitting out at eye level,” Montoya told the news site.

Montoya attempted to contact Grant Wood and district officials, but it was a Saturday when he found the documents and did not receive a response. He gathered the documents and contacted the state Department of Education over what he considered a “careless disregard for private information.”

iowa_small School leaves student data at public recycling center

“Iowa Administrative Code and the Iowa City Community School Board’s Superintendent Directions require that student records containing personally identifiable information remain confidential during collection, storage, disclosure and destruction,” the Press-Citizen reports.

Officials alerted Iowa City Community School District Superintendent Stephen Murley of the situation and he apparently investigated to determine how the private documents became public.

Murley told the news site a new special education teacher moved into a portable classroom at Grant Wood Elementary and the old documents were inadvertently put in a recycle bin.

“Somehow, it appears that some of that material got mixed in with recycling instead of shredding,” he said.

Murley said district officials are now reviewing confidentiality requirements with employees and staff to avoid a similar situation in the future. The superintendent said the district shreds some documents on its own, and relies on a private company to take care of the rest, but would not divulge who was tasked with shredding the Grant Wood documents.

Folks who commented online believe the district’s excuse for the mishap isn’t nearly good enough.

“This isn’t a little accident, this is a serious violation of FERPA federal law and IDEA/ADA protected information,” Julie VanDyke wrote. “This better be followed up on by the State Dept. of Ed AND a complant/s should be filed with the U.S. Dept. of Ed.

“Playing it off as no big deal is an unbelievable mistake when according to FERPA law, this district’s federal funding could be jeopardized because of this,” she continued. “It’s not the first time either.”