According to the reports thousands of American parents have already sent their children back to the classroom. And at the same time, millions will soon join them amid fears about the raging pandemic and whether they’ll even be notified when coronavirus hits their campuses. Because of this education and classroom the school districts, health departments, and state agencies across the country whether they will release information about coronavirus cases in students, teachers, and staff at K-12 campuses.
As reasons to withhold even basic counts of coronavirus cases, many of the gatekeepers have pointed to medical and educational privacy laws. Also, the federal guidance says that those laws aren’t barriers to disclosure and legal experts who note that schools can share information as long as they don’t identify individuals.
There was a rumor in Florida that a school employee died from COVID-19 just days before the start of in-person classes. Jennifer DeShazo, District spokesperson confirmed the death but not the cause, citing HIPAA, the federal privacy law that applies only to medical providers releasing identifying information. He also mentioned in a statement that “I want a measurable way to tell me if they’re doing a good job protecting my kid or not.” Also, he deserves to understand how elected officials are making their decisions.
Dan Clemens, North Kansas City Schools Superintendent said he would be “imposing on the privacy rights of individuals” by reporting any coronavirus cases in a district with so few people, according to a story by KCUR. Also, the officials in Tennessee mentioned that they had no plans to even track information on school-related outbreaks much less share information about them with the public, but then they changed course under public pressure. Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement that the state would have a plan to allow schools to publicly share the number of COVID-19 cases at their facilities. “I believe that we have to protect privacy but we also have to be transparent,” Lee told reporters on Aug. 4.
The one who leads the New England First Amendment Coalition, Justin Silverman said several states also had cited HIPAA as a reason for withholding coronavirus case counts at nursing homes, although many later reversed course and released that information. The American Academy of Pediatrics Council, Dr. Nathaniel Beers suggested that the districts should have a tiered communication approach: providing the most detailed information to people with direct exposure; a more generic notification with health screening guidance for others in the school; and basic information on case counts and response for the general community.
For the safety and security of children, the memo said schools might need to share identifiable information, including the affected person’s name, with members of a wrestling team if someone on the squad contracted COVID-19.
“In these limited situations, parents and eligible students may need to be aware of this information in order to take appropriate precautions or other actions to ensure the health or safety of their child or themselves,” wrote the agency.
The president of the HSC Health Care System in Washington, D.C. Beers said “For schools to be open, you need staff to feel like safety is first. You need students and parents to feel safe is first. You need the broader community to feel like the school is taking care of business and not putting everyone else in harm’s way,” “That’s where the broader communication is really critical.”