June 23, 2011

Census “Mysteries” Explained

The Wisconsin statute that allows school systems to conduct a census is very simple. The information that can be collected is the number of children in a household and their ages. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

But we have recently seen school systems use the pretext of a census to try to gather information that was never intended to be part of the census.

The Koehler area school district asked families whether any of their children had disabilities. The North Lake school system similarly asked families whether any of their children had a “suspected handicapping condition.” Waukesha sought to collect information about the children’s birth dates, ethnicity and languages spoken at home. The Somerset school district went even further and sent a flyer proclaiming “immediate response required by law.”

To protect confidential information about your family, you simply need to be aware of the fact that no state or federal law requires you to respond to the school census request at all. Alternatively, you can fulfill the objective of the law by telling only the number of children in your home and their ages.

Census information is open to the public. When the only information that is collected is that which is delineated in the statute—number and ages of children in a home—it might be viewed as a minimal privacy issue.

But when school systems run wild and seek information not remotely connected with the legitimate purpose of the census—information which could lead to harm for your family if it became public—the wise citizen will make sure he is well informed about his rights. HSLDA will continue to give timely, accurate advice to families seeking guidance when confronted with a census.