Some of the school records that were inadvertently discarded in a dumpster at Le Conte School. Photo: Alicia Abramson

The discovery on Saturday of a stash of school records in a dumpster on the Le Conte Elementary School playground has prompted the Berkeley Unified School District to initiate an investigation into how school documents are stored and discarded.

“We need a clear policy and higher security,” said BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett.

Berkeleyside revealed on Tuesday that a large number of school records had been left in a dumpster at Le Conte after reader Alicia Abramson got in touch to say she was concerned about the method of their disposal and privacy issues. Abramson discovered the documents on Saturday when she took her kids to play on the school grounds.

Huyett told Berkeleyside that the documents should not have been in the dumpster. He said a clean-up crew at the school had grabbed the wrong boxes and put them in the trash. “It was a custodial mistake. We want to apologize,” he said. “This is not the way we would normally handle this. We take the security of records and privacy seriously.” He added that he was thankful that Berkeleyside had brought this matter to light.

Concerned that the records might be in the dumpster by mistake, Abramson had taken some of them home for safekeeping. A BUSD representative collected them from her a few days later. “We have been able to retrieve the records and they are in a secure location. We want to thank Abramson for saving them. She has been wonderful and this is a service to us,” Huyett said.

He said the district was still looking into the whereabouts of the documents that were left in the dumpster.

Huyett, who has been at the Berkeley district for three years, said he did not realize records were being kept at individual schools. He said the normal practice is to keep records at a central location. He speculated that it might be because of the close community nature of Berkeley that documents are sometimes kept at school locations.

An investigation has now been launched into best practice for records storage, he said. “We have a meeting of Principals today and we will do a survey of how schools keep their records. This incident has turned into a positive opportunity to look at setting new policy.”

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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7 Comments

  1. See Slate article for similar event in New York: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/permanent_record/features/2011/permanent_record/how_i_found_the_report_cards_and_how_they_changed_my_life.html.

  2. Interesting that Le Conte has not responded to my voicemail, nor BUSD to the e-mail I sent them.  And that they apparently have not been interested in/willing/able to stop The Berkeleyside from continuing to broadcast photographs of private student records, with clearly visible personally identifiable information.   Must be a really slow BUSD leadership week.

    Thank you, Ms. Abramson, for asking questions!
     

  3. This story reminds me that mail carriers for my downtown Berkeley apartment building often dump cartons of commercial marketing mail that the senders paid to have addressed with each apartment number and the mail carrier is paid, I am pretty sure, to put this mail into the mailbox. Mail for Apt 102 is supposed to go in the 102 mailbox and the sender paid for this service. Tis true that many residents see such mail as junk but the sender pays for it and we all subsidized this service by paying higher first class postage to cover the mass junk mailings.

    It’s flat wrong for the carreir to dump them in cartons in my lobby and pretend residents will paw through and take their own.

    So once I took a whole set of adds paid for by Target to promote a new store and showed them to the post office service window. The guy behind the counter, I kid you not, told me I had stolen U.S. mail. I hesitated to shove it over to him, as he demanded, cause it had been,um, abandoned and the lawyer in me did not think the mail belonged to the post office after it had been dumped into the lobby of my building. The twerp supervisor accused me of stealing u.s. mail, said I had no right to it.

    I get that economic pressure pressures folks into poor choices, which is probably how these school records ended up in a publicly accessible dumpster. And I get why the mail carriers on my route get lazy and dump junk mail that no one wants in the lobby to be recycled  . . . . by whom? Should my property manager’s maintenance staff be responsible for the mail the post office dumps in the lobby? No. If a business pays to have that junk delivered, it should be delivered. Or just stop taking the money for junk mail.

    The fall of a society continues.

  4. According to the previous Berkeleyside report, Ms. Abramsom, while she had some concerns about privacy, seemed chiefly interested in seeking out historians or someone who might be interested in the files.

  5. I don’t think Ms. Ambramson should have handed the records over to BUSD.   The reason is that there is a question of whether or not BUSD committed a crime here.  Handing over those records returns the best evidence to the possible criminal party.   Additionally, Hyuett seems to say that everything is OK now and all records back in safe hands but… what evidence of that is there?    Ambramson is reported to have taken some, not all.   Both before and after the Berkeleyside broadcast  their location, third parties may have taken others.  From the facts reported it seems like the truth is that BUSD has no damn idea if any records were stolen.

    I would guess that its “unlikely” any bad guys got in on this game but I do think it would have been more proper for Ambramson to secure the records she had, withholding them from BUSD, until it was more clear that BUSD would be held to account.

    Blaming the custodians is pretty rich, by the way.

  6. “We need a clear policy and higher security,” said BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett.

    Gee, I sure wish Huyett was as emphatic about robberies, sexual harassment and gun possession on campus.

  7. The lack of security re: these records is unacceptable.  My record is likely among them.  Haven’t been able to reach anyone at BUSD.  Called LeConte during business hours, and no one answered. There are Federal guidelines for records retention and security, which clearly weren’t followed.  Why would custodians have access to student records?

    BUSD School Board: I’d like to know where my record is.