Special Report: Protecting Student Records - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

Special Report: Protecting Student Records

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COLUMBUS, GA - Schools and Universities across the country hold millions of pieces of students' personal information like birth certificate and social security cards. Here in Muscogee County, the school district is responsible for more than 46,000 records. But what's being done to keep them safe? News Three's Naomi Keitt gives us a closer look in her Special Report: Student Records.

Muscogee County School District's Records Management Supervisor Annie Canaday says there are a number of safeguards in place to protect records kept on paper and on the school district's online portal, Infinite Campus.

Chame Thomas is a former Muscogee County student who has some concerns about his student records. He graduated from Jordan High School 8 years ago but lost his original diploma. Thomas says his trouble started when he tried to get a replacement. He claims he couldn't get a copy of his diploma because some of the information on the document was incorrect.

"Under a different social security number and a different name. The name was actually a pseudonym or nickname that I used to go by and I don't have any idea of how that got on there," said Thomas.

He needed the diploma to verify his graduation so he could get scholarship money to continue his education.

"It's very difficult. Like I said over $5,000 of financial aid I was denied as well as I've lost job opportunities because I had to show that I graduated high school in order to get that job but I was not able to," said Thomas.

He says he's trying to work with the district to get his records in order. A student's file follows them from kindergarten through high school and even if they transfer schools that information is kept within the district. Each file contains immunization records, a birth certificate, a copy of the student's social security card, test scores, and a registration from for each year the student is in the district. Canady says along with her department, principals and school administrators are responsible for protecting paper records. Some are kept in secure areas in the schools and administrators must have a legitimate educational reason to view the files.

"There's a log in the record that should be completed when everyone views any students file that's kept in the school," said Canady.

There are safeguards in place for parents and students who want to view records.

"We make certain that only those who present valid picture id's can receive copies of or even view the records that are available here," said Canady.

The information stored in the online portal, Infinite Campus, is guarded by the technology department.

"Our technology department ensures that the rights are only given to those who have authority to have them," said Canady.

Records management doesn't stop after high school. On college campuses like at Columbus State, it's important for them to keep information secure because almost every student provides vital personal information to the university.

"It happens almost on a daily basis. Somewhere around the country somebody is breaking into a computer system" said Wayne Summers, professor at Columbus State's TSYS School of Computer Science.

Summers says academic institutions haven't been hit hard with data breaches but it is possible.

"The internet is ubiquitous and world-wide. It's always interesting to see where these attacks come from. They may come from Korea or China or next door," said Summers.

Student's provide social security numbers and sometimes debit and credit card information to the school. Summers says the university has firewalls on their computer networks, anti-virus software to prevent viral and worm attacks, and if a criminal does get their hand on information, they encrypt their data so it cannot be read. Although most people cannot protect their information from getting stolen in a data breach situation, Summers does encourage students to take precautions.

"Just be diligent. Use common sense. Don't give out your cards to people that you don't trust," said Summers.

Summers says students should monitor their credit scores and banking information regularly. If you're interested in checking your credit score you can do it for free at annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

If you're concerned about your child's records in Muscogee County, Canady encourages you to contract the school they attend and set up a time to look over the records. You can also request a copy.

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