WILL Issues Letter Warning MPS to Respect Student Privacy Rights

Published on: Aug 27, 2021

Teacher’s survey about Covid vaccines at Rufus King High School violates federal law

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) issued a letter to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Superintendent, Keith Posley, and Rufus King High School Principal, Phyllis Anderson, warning that a recent incident involving a high school teacher surveying her students about their vaccination status violates federal law. WILL is urging MPS to notify every district teacher that this type of survey breaches student privacy and violates the law.

The Quote: WILL Associate Counsel, Katherine Spitz, said, “MPS must make clear that teachers cannot require students to answer questions about their political or religious beliefs or to divulge discussions with their physicians, including why they have or have not received the COVID-19 vaccine. Schools need to be mindful that federal law protects student privacy rights.”

Background: An MPS high school geometry teacher at Rufus King High School issued a survey to students on the first day of class asking about their vaccination status and demanding that those who are not vaccinated provide a reason why. Students couldn’t skip the question on the survey.

Federal law protects students from being required to participate in any sort of “survey, analysis, or evaluation” that divulges information concerning, among other things, political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent; legally recognized privileged relationships, such as that between a physician and a patient; and religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent. In other words, a geometry teacher has no right to solicit this information from a student.

In addition to federal law, the vaccination question violates Milwaukee Public Schools’ own policies on these matters. MPS’s “Parent/Guardian Bill of Rights” specifically provides that parents have the right to “read surveys and questionnaires that may be used with your child.” MPS’s handbook also reflects the right to privacy in one’s medical records.

WILL is urging MPS Superintendent Posely to ensure that similar incidents like this one do not occur in the future. WILL asked Posely to notify every teacher in the district via email that surveys and questions of this nature violate the law and are unacceptable, and that he confirm with WILL that he has done so to avoid further action.

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