In Palm Beach County, concerns over how students’ private health data is protected online

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In a post-Roe v Wade world, the posting of student-athlete health information online has caused an outcry over reproductive privacy. WLRN’s Sherrilyn Cabrera spoke with Katherine Kokal of the Palm Beach Post, who reported on the story.

Florida student-athletes must report any medical conditions to their school before registering to play for the season. They are required to complete a detailed annual physical form with a doctor, which is then submitted to the sports directors.

But this year, Palm Beach County Public Schools decided to put those forms online, including a section on menstrual history. These questions are not mandatory, but this decision has raised concerns among parents.

In recent reports by Katherine Kokal of the Palm Beach Post, she explained how the move has worried some about how students’ private health data is stored and protected online.

“I think what’s important about this story and why it’s worth publishing now is that people are really rethinking their reproductive privacy,” said Kokal, who covers education.

“There are a lot of abortion rights activists and reproductive privacy advocates who say it’s shocking and outrageous because they’re looking at things through a new lens in a world where Roe v Wade is not the law of the land.”

After some Palm Beach County Public School parents raised concerns at a school board meeting in August not being able to opt out of submitting their child’s information online, the district decided to allow the ability to submit necessary health information on paper.

“There are many safeguards in school district policy to ensure that this data is not sold,” Kokal said. “But there are also a lot of question marks, because Aktivate is such a new company.

Katherine Kokal, education reporter at the Palm Beach Post

“When I asked them how they would share student data, it was clear that they hadn’t really looked at all the potential ways the data could be used.”

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

CABRERA: Why were these athlete registration forms put online?

KOKAL: So the idea behind it is that if you’re coaching a baseball game and someone gets injured, you’ll be able to access that information on your phone. OK, here’s this athlete’s parent. Here’s the fact that they have a penicillin allergy or something, that all of that information can then be stored and viewed digitally.

What do we know about the third-party software company the school district uses to download these forms?

This is a software company that was launched in September 2021. Aktivate is a software system that says the ability to put all this information online streamlines the process so you don’t get drowned in paperwork.

Have you heard from parents and students? What do they say about it?

There are plenty of abortion rights activists and reproductive privacy advocates who say it’s shocking and outrageous because they’re looking at things from a new perspective in a world where Roe v Wade is not the law of the land. Palm Beach County Fall Sports had a mid-August deadline where all athletes had to register online in order to play. And at the school board meeting just before that deadline, the parents came out and said, you’re giving us no choice but to use this online provider and we don’t trust them. The school board said, okay, we’re going to allow people to enroll on paper this year and we’ll take more time to work on rolling that out.

How does the school district ensure data is secure?

Well, Aktivate is held accountable. To do business with the school district, they must sign a privacy policy that states that they will not only protect student data, but also that they will only allow employees who have a legitimate interest to access it, and that it cannot be shared. So there are a lot of safeguards in school district policy. But there are also a lot of question marks because Aktivate is such a new company. When I asked them how they would share student data, it was clear that they hadn’t really considered all of the potential ways the data could be used. But I asked them specific questions about menstrual data and a company rep said, you know, we haven’t really thought about that.

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