Dove Charter School Being Sued
Dove Charter School officials are being accused of illegally accessing confidential student information to send recruitment mailers to 107,000 fifth and sixth graders.
The Oklahoma Department of Education made the accusation in a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court.
Dove Superintendent Ibrahim Sel acknowledged the charter school as “careless” with its recruitment mailers.
“We realize that our having access to such lists–and our subsequent mailing to that list–upset many parents and teachers,” Sel said in a statement Wednesday. “We respect each family’s privacy and did not intend to cause alarm. For that, we are truly sorry.”
Sel, administrator Ilhan Guzey and the Dove Public Charter School Foundation were named as defendants in the case.
The state Education Department is asking a judge to permanently prohibit the defendants from accessing information of students who aren’t enrolled in Dove schools. Dove has agreed to a temporary order that blocks its officials from using the data they already obtained.
State officials alleged Sel and Guzey accessed the State Student Information System to obtain names and addresses for Oklahoma students who were not–and never had been–enrolled in Dove Charter Schools.
The Dove Pubic Charter School Foundation oversees four Dove schools in Oklahoma City and three in Tulsa. Later this year, the foundation plans to open a new virtual charter school, Oklahoma Information and Technology School.
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson is representing Dove in the lawsuit. He said school administrators have been working with the state Department of Education.
“We’ve reached an agreement with the department on a temporary restraining order that would prohibit us from using any of the data on an ongoing basis, which we were very agreeable to,” Edmondson said. “I think this is going to be resolved on a fairly amicable basis.”
State Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the Department of Education received “alarming” complaints on Friday that Dove had unlawfully obtained and used student information. The department launched an investigation with Oklahoma Cyber Command and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
“The protection of student information is absolutely critical,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “The (Department of Education) immediately notified OMES to entirely disable any and all access by Dove and its employees to any student information, issued a cease-and-desist demand letter to them and filed a lawsuit against Dove and others for a restraining order. These are the first steps as this multiagency state investigation is ongoing.”
Sel and Guzey had legal access to the State Student Information System, but only for records of Dove students. The student information system contains student names, ages and demographic information.
It doesn’t contain children’s grades, test scores, Social Security numbers, medical records or discipline reports.
“It’s important to note there was no data beach; we did not hack into a system,” Sel said. “It’s open to school officials statewide. In retrospect, the letters should have been addressed to the parents. We simply got careless.”
State officials sent a letter Saturday to Dove Charter Schools, saying the state Education Department had received numerous complaints the day before of student records being wrongfully obtained.
Recruitment mailers arrived unsolicited at the homes of 107,000 fifth and sixth graders, the lawsuit alleged. Some mailers included applications to Oklahoma Information and Technology School, known as OITS.
Other mailers reportedly were sent to children in additional grade levels to advertise Dove Charter Schools. These children are public school students who live within the enrollment areas of Dove schools.
The mailers were addressed to students whose families never indicated interest in OITS or Dove schools, the lawsuit states. Court records included pictures of mailers that were sent to students in Tuttle and Kingfisher.
Federal law says school officials can’t obtain student information unless they have a “legitimate educational interest” to fulfill professional responsibilities.
“Neither Dove Charter Schools, Sel, Guzey nor OITS had a legitimate educational interest in the information accessed, used, possessed and subsequently disseminated to third parties,” the lawsuit states.
OITS hasn’t been approved to access the State Student Information System, according to the lawsuit. Officials from Dove Charter Schools, which is a separate entity from OITS, are not allowed to share student information with the virtual school.
The state officials said Dove also broke the law by sharing private student information with a third-party direct mail company. The company reportedly sent the mailers to Oklahoma schoolchildren on behalf of OITS and Dove.
Sel said the mailing company has permanently deleted the information, and students records weren’t shared with anyone else.
“We have learned a valuable lesson,” he said.