Saturday, March 11, 2006

Santa Monica College FERPA Violations

According to Santa Monica College's policies as set forth in its Spring 2006 schedule, governing Student Privacy and Directory Information:

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 protects the privacy of a student’s education records—as print or electronic documents—by placing limits on who may have access to the records, what information may be shared or disclosed, and how that information may be used. Santa Monica College complies with FERPA and has strict policies and procedures in place governing student records.

SMC's policy also states:

Under FERPA, students have the right to inspect and review their own student records.

Let's see how SMC has violated the FERPA policies.

Back in August 2005 of last year, I spoke with Kiersten Elliot in Admissions regarding obtaining my student files. I requested them also from Dean of Judicial Affairs Judith Penchansky on August 30, 2005. Yet, I have never received these files. Penchansky told me at that time: "You can subpoena it. That file is not for you." If it's my student file, why is it not for me? Then, alternatively, who is it for? Pursuant to the provisions of FERPA, a student has the right to view his or her own academic records and to petition to have factual errors corrected. Considering that Judith Penchansky has slapped another wrongful disciplinary hold on my school records based on what I feel may be factual errors, I should have a right to view and correct my student records. So should any student who is pursuing a grade appeal or challenging a disciplinary hold.

I spoke again with Marilyn Goodrich, Penchansky's assistant, on March 8, 2006, and again asked for my student records. They were not released. I was told that Penchansky had to authorize their release. According to Marilyn Goodrich, "I would say it's a large file." What's in this file and why is it so secretive? When I asked again the next day, I was now told that Vice President of Planning and Development, Robert Sammis, must authorize the release. My attorneys have now also requested the release of my student records. According to another student at SMC, who requested her student records in writing, SMC has failed to comply with the law and release any and all records they may have on that student.

While SMC's administrators are failing to release student records, Academy of Entertainment and Technology Professor
Jim Keeshen is wrongfully disclosing them in his ET 2 Storytelling course. Last Monday night, March 6, 2006, Professor Keeshen handed his students an accordion file filled with graded student quizzes and homework. Although it was divided by alphabetical sections, students are allowed to rummage through it to find their graded work. Professor Keeshen stated that students are not often up to this task, implying that students pull out other students' work by mistake.

According to the Winona State University webpage pertaining to
Student Data Privacy:

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (
20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records.

FERPA prohibits the funding of an educational institution that has a practice of disclosing educational records, or the personally identifiable information contained in those records, to unauthorized individuals without consent of the student’s parent. When a student turns 18 years old or attends a postsecondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parent to the student.

The words "educational record" refer to "those records that are (1) directly related to a student, and (2) maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution."

The words "personally identifiable information" include, but are not limited to:
The student’s name;
The name of the student’s parent or other family member;
The address of the student or student’s family;
A personal identifier, such as the student’s social security number or student number;
A list of personal characteristics that would make the student’s identity easily traceable; or
Other information that would make the student’s identity easily traceable.

"Disclosure," in this context, includes "access to or the release, transfer, or other communication to any party, by any means, including oral, written, or electronic means."

Basically, then, FERPA says that the university and its agents (faculty, staff, administrators) are not allowed to share educational information about any student without the student’s prior consent.

It is also a FERPA violation to leave graded student work where others can view it or to return a student’s graded work by having another student pick it up. This means, for example, that faculty cannot have students search through a stack of other students’ papers to find their own, and that they cannot have students claim papers from a box in a hallway or departmental office. [It is OK, however, to have a secretary or another faculty member return papers, provided that they do it individually, because they have a legitimate educational interest.]

So, by Professor Keeshen handing out an accordion file to his ET 2 class and instructing them to go through a stack of papers to find their name, he violated the provisions of FERPA pertaining to disclosure. When I was his teaching assistant in both ET 2 Storytelling and ET 61 History of Animation, I witnessed him do this on many occasions in his classroom.

But this is just a pattern of FERPA violations on the part of Jim Keeshen. In our March 3, 2006 blog article, "
SMC Professor Jim Keeshen's Hate Speech Against the Disabled," Professor Keeshen disclosed confidential, false, and derogatory information about a student to other students in his ET 18 Storyboarding course. He also violated SMC's policies for disabled students as set forth in SMC's FAQ page for faculty and staff pertaining to Accommodating Students with Disabilities. SMC's written policy makes clear:

Information about a student's disability is confidential. It is the individual's choice whether to ask for an accommodation or not, or how much to reveal about his/her disability. In post-secondary education it is up to the adult student to decide whether an instructor is to be made aware of disability-related information.

Such information might prejudice an instructor's opinion about the student. The only information an instructor needs to know is what accommodations (academic adjustments) are recommended by the Disabled Student Services counselors and specialists.

Had Professor Keeshen read this webpage, he would have also seen that he violated another policy governing exams in his ET 2 course. The policy states:

Never offer unlimited time on tests as an accommodation. Never offer untimed tests. If extra exam time seems like a necessity for accommodation, offer it as extended time.

It may seem like semantics, but unlimited and untimed suggest that the student can tell you when the test is done. Extended time puts the time limit in your hands. So, unless you bring your sleeping bag and toothbrush to campus to provide proctored tests, only authorize extended time test accommodations.

Here's a screenshot from the eCompanion for the ET 2 course for this semester for Quiz 1:

ET 2 eCompanion Quiz 1 in violation of SMC policy

As this screenshot reveals, Professor Keeshen is offering both unlimited test time and unlimited opportunities to take the quiz. In fact, a student can take the quiz over and over for the entire semester until he or she is satisfied with the results. What does a student learn by doing this? Also, conceivably, if a student receives a perfect grade and can again access the quiz to view the questions, the student can provide these questions and answers to another student. This fosters a learning environment conducive to academic dishonesty, in violation of SMC's policy against such conduct.

When I was a teaching assistant in this course, I programmed the eCompanion to allow only one chance at the quiz with a one-week time limit. If a student missed the quiz and had a justifiable excuse, an exception would be made to re-open the quiz with a special password. Additionally, I would lock the quiz so that students could not view the questions and answers until everyone else was done with the quiz. This provided an educational environment conducive to academic honesty and fair evaluation of all students by allowing a set time and chance to take the quiz. Once the student opened the quiz, he or she had between 1 and 2 hours to take it.

As we've shown in previous blog articles, Professor Keeshen has
tampered with online quizzes in the past in his ET 61 course, helped to conceal public records and to infringe on copyrighted material. Keeshen has further abused the eCompanion online delivery system for his own personal vendetta against me. According to Jim Keeshen, he is no longer allowed to teach the ET 61 History of Animation course due to the alleged copyright infringement.

What are the penalties for violating FERPA? According to the Winona State University website:

The federal government has the right to deny funding to any educational institution that has a practice of violating FERPA. The government would base its decision in such a case upon evidence that faculty, staff, or administration had an ongoing pattern of making improper disclosures and that the university had made no effective efforts to prevent them.

Has SMC made any effort to prevent these disclosures by Professor Keeshen? Not to my knowledge. In fact, when I sent a copy of the email I wrote Jim Keeshen on
March 3, 2006 to SMC's Board of Trustees, Dean Katharine Muller, AET Chairman Bill Lancaster, VP Robert Sammis, the Office for Civil Rights, and other relevant employees of SMC including those in the Disabled Student Services, SMC retaliated by allowing Judith Penchansky to place yet another wrongful hold on my student records on March 6, 2006. For a history of Penchansky's previous wrongful hold, please see our blog articles "SMC's "Final Solution" Against One Jew" and "The Hold Placed On My SMC Enrollment."

And what did Professor Keeshen do on March 6, 2006 in response to SMC's wrongful disciplinary hold against me? He went again into his ET 2 Storytelling eCompanion course and replaced his "You are an AH" folder with "Gotcha!" Originally, the folder was named "Des Manttari." At the time he did this, over 80 students potentially read this comment. Here's a screenshot:

ET 2 eCompanion retaliatory folder Gotcha by Jim Keeshen

And here's a screenshot showing the folder was empty, thus serving no purpose other than retaliation against me:

ET 2 eCompanion empty retaliatory folder Gotcha

For the full story, please see our blog article, "
Unlawful Retaliatory Discrimination by Jim Keeshen." You can view the "Des Manttari" and "You are an AH" screenshots from this article. So, rather than comply with my wishes as set forth in my March 3, 2006 email to cease and desist further harassment and to apologize for his hate speech, Jim Keeshen did the exact opposite and abused the eCollege eCompanion system, not once, but twice. Could the "Gotcha!" folder refer to anything but the wrongful disciplinary hold that was placed on my student records? Probably not considering that the "Gotcha!" published statement was only up for that day. Keeshen quickly renamed it to "Rain."

Additionally, the disciplinary hold letter from Penchansky was justified on accusations made against me by Jim Keeshen. These undated and unofficial written accusations were allegedly received by Judith Penchansky's office on March 7, 2006, the same day I resent my emails to the SMC Board of Trustees, administrators, and disability employees. I find it curiously disturbing that Penchansky would issue a letter making accusations against me and taking wrongful action against me based on letters from Keeshen received a day after her letter? Am I missing something here?

If Jim Keeshen is acting in his official capacity as a professor at Santa Monica College, which is the only way he could seek action against me through Penchansky's office, then Keeshen should put his false statements against me on official school letterhead, address them formally, and sign them under penalty of perjury. Otherwise, they are nothing but another instance of retaliation.

SMC is in grave danger of losing its federal funding. They have denied equal access to their disabled students, violated their confidentiality, retaliated against their students, denied them academic freedom and a chance to redress grievances. They cannot say that they have not been warned about these alleged violations of our student rights and the federal laws that protect us. If this is the case and SMC does lose its funding, it is the students who lose out. Perhaps the SMC administration and Professor Jim Keeshen should then cover the costs of our education.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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