Focus on senior portraits
By Marsha Sutton
As part of its contract with the San Dieguito Union High School District to shoot senior yearbook portraits, Keane Studios, located in Carmel Valley, receives personal contact information for each 12th-grade student and their parents.
Some parents say this is wrong, citing a violation of privacy rights.
“A few weeks ago I received a letter that [child’s] personal information was sent to Keane Studios so she could be photographed for the yearbook,” said one parent in May, whose child will be a senior this fall.
The parent, who wished to remain anonymous, received letters, emails and calls – not only from Keane but also from high school students on the yearbook staff, urging her to schedule a sitting. When she contacted the studio, she learned that Keane had her child’s name, address, phone number and email, as well as all that for her and her husband.
“I do not feel it is acceptable for a for-profit business to be given all this personal information … without the explicit consent of the parents,” she said in an email.
But the district has supported this approach which it claims has worked well in years past, to communicate to families the deadlines and details of senior yearbook portraits. The goal is to inform and include as many seniors as possible in the yearbook, while minimizing the many staff hours it would take to do Keane’s work.
Christina Bennett, SDUHSD’s director of purchasing and risk management, confirmed that personal student contact information is routinely given to Keane Studios but added that the Annual Notification signature page provided to parents at the start of each school year allows parents to opt out of information sharing.
“Through the annual notification to parents, the district seeks permission from parents to release directory information for legitimate educational interests or official district business,” Bennett said in an email. “Parents do have the option to request their children’s information be withheld.”
The form allows parents to opt their children out of contact from the military, colleges and employers – and from the yearbook.
If “yearbook” is checked, that indicates “you do not want your student’s photo in yearbook.” There is no option to prohibit specific contractors from receiving student information.
Bennett said outside vendors who receive student information are required to sign a confidentiality agreement before information is released. “We have such an agreement with Keane,” she said.
The agreement says that the contractor (in this case, Keane Studios) “is required to maintain the confidentiality of the student information provided and not to disclose personally identifiable information about a student including photos to any other party without the prior written consent of the parent or eligible student …”
The agreement further states that when the work has been completed, “all student information will be destroyed and no copies or other retention of the personally identifiable student information will be maintained.”
This last part may come as a surprise to my anonymous parent who said she discovered Keane had retained her older child’s personal information when she called Keane about her rising senior.
Public Records request
Charges of privacy rights violations make me curious.
A review of information obtained from the district under a California Public Records Act request included a message from Keane Studios, distributed to the class of 2015, that states in part, “To be sure every senior is represented in your senior yearbook, the school registrar supplies us with your contact information.”
Clearly the release of student data to Keane is no secret.
Keane requests seniors’ names, parents’ names, addresses, all phone numbers and all emails on file at the district – all on a flash drive or CD.
Keane employees then contact families to schedule senior portraits for the yearbook. Employees, by the way, include San Dieguito students working as interns for Keane.
On June 19, 2013, Keane Studios owner Bill Keane emailed SDUHSD yearbook advisers, saying the interns working at Keane “have been calling seniors for about a month now.”
The released CPRA information indicated that yearbook students are also given personal information of their senior classmates which is used to contact seniors to encourage them to schedule a portrait sitting.
This, despite Bennett’s assertion that “students working in journalism on school newspapers and yearbooks do not get access to student contact information.”
There are controls, Bennett said, on access to student information, including state and federal laws, the annual notification opt-out form, Calif. Education Code 49073, confidentiality agreements, and board policy (BP 5125.1 and 5125.1/AR-1).
According to the district’s annual notification form, directory information can include the following: student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, weight and height of members of athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and awards received, and the most recent public or private school attended by the student.
“Parents/guardians must notify the district in writing every year if they do not want the district to disclose directory information from their child’s education records without prior written consent,” the policy states.
Digging into the privacy issue uncovered other concerns of parents – notably, the cost and lack of choice in vendors.
Eric Dill, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of business services, said, “I’ve had more questions about the senior photography than anything else.”
Dill said the district uses only one vendor to ensure a consistent look and avoid potential problems with quality, size, background and other logistics. It has been district policy for many years now to select one vendor through a formal Request for Proposal process.
The requirement to have senior portraits taken by one approved vendor is supported by the high school yearbook advisers, but not all parents are on board, with some raising cost issues.
There have also been objections to the money that some vendors give back to the district in exchange for their contracts.
Dill said Keane and other vendors work on commission, and the schools receive “a few dollars per student” from contractors for exclusive rights to sell their services as the preferred vendor. Some have called this an improper kickback, but Dill disagreed.
An RFP was issued last year for senior yearbook photography, and Keane was once again selected. Although it’s a five-year contract, the district says the school board must approve the contract annually.
Dill hinted that the future may be unfocused, because students aren’t booking portrait sessions as before, and sales of yearbooks, which can cost students more than $100, are declining.
High schools without yearbooks is a disheartening prospect. Yet this may be a snapshot of changes to come.
— Marsha Sutton can be reached at email@example.com.
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