HCDSB deviates
from privacy protocols

TORONTO – The Halton Catholic District School Board may be breaching provincial privacy protocols when it comes to collecting students’ personal information. During Tuesday’s Board meeting (February 1), trustees decided to proceed with the student census without acquiring prior explicit parental consent for students in grades 9 – 12 to participate. They are minors.

The decision flies in the face of Oakville trustee, Helena Karabela’s Motion: Express Parental Consent for Minors. The motion was to amend the process by which the Board would obtain parental consent for students when participating in the voluntary census survey planned for this Spring.

Starting February 28, HCDSB parents/guardians of students from Kindergarten through Grade 8 will be asked to express consent and complete the voluntary survey on behalf of their child. Students in the secondary panel (Grades 9 – 12) will be asked to complete the survey on their own behalf, during class time, and on the basis of implied parental consent.

Parents and students who do not wish to participate, must exercise the “opt out” option. This could lead to misunderstandings and complaints, argued trustee Karabela. Children under the age of 18 are considered minors and cannot legally consent to the collection of sensitive information.

Already in Phase 2 of the Student Census process, the school board sent out email communications to HCDSB families (Monday evening) to share the details of the process for administering a board-wide census ahead of Tuesday’s Board meeting.

The Board had yet to discuss and vote on Trustee Karabela’s motion. It was initially included in the January 18 agenda for debate but was deferred to this week’s meeting.

According the HCDSB, the Student Census survey’s purpose is to capture a more accurate picture of the student population. The questions will cover various areas including race, ethnicity, religion and Indigenous identity. Additionally, its purpose is to gather information on sexual orientation, gender identity and socio-economic status of students at the elementary and secondary panels.

The Board claims the outcome of the survey will help “create and promote a more equitable and inclusive learning environment, where all students can achieve, believe and belong”. As indicated on the HCDSB website: “All Ontario School Boards are required to collect identity-based data (via census) in compliance with Ontario’s Anti-Racism Data Standards (ARDS) under the 2017 Anti-Racism Act”.

Karabela’s Motion failed in a vote of 5 to 4. Parents have expressed concern over the Board’s decision to proceed with the Student survey for minors on the basis of implied consent for the secondary panel. Parents are concerned that decision could be interpreted as a violation of Ontario’s ARDS.

According to the Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism, on the topic of the collection of personal information, the document states: “Implement the collection of personal information based on voluntary express consent”.

Trustee Karabela echoed that statement and pointed to the fact that public sector organizations need to provide individuals with the opportunity to “actively communicate positive agreement to the collection of their personal information”. That would appear to contradict the “implied consent” option the Board has chosen to follow.

This decision raises some serious question as to why the Board is not in line with the protocol on the collection of identity-based information as outlined in the ADRS.

As at time of going to print, the Board Chair Marvin Duarte did not respond to our request for comment.

P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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