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Harvard, Framingham Schools Miscommunicated Communication Study to Parents

Superintendent: "We have paused the callings to parents. We have paused the study to make sure letters have gone out to everyone and in every language. We want to give parents enough time to opt out."

Page two of the opt-out letter.
Page two of the opt-out letter.

Originally posted at 1:48 p.m. on Sept. 10.

Updated Wednesday with statement from School Committee Chair.

***

Framingham Public Schools announced this week, in a press release, it has partnered with a research team from Harvard University to find ways to increase student attendance via parental involvement in schools.

Ironically, the partnership has many parents upset as the research project was not communicated well to parents before they started receiving phone calls from the Harvard University team. Other parents never received an opt-out letter to sign.

"There were some initial miscommunication with the roll out of the study," said Framingham Superintendent of Schools Stacy Scott in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "We have paused the calls to parents. We have paused the study to make sure letters have gone out to everyone and in every language. We want to give parents enough time to opt out."

Framingham School administration made the research project an automatic opt-in unless parents sign the opt out letter. Editor's Note: A copy of the opt-out letter is attached to this report.

The primary goal of the study is to determine what quality of communication with parents leads to increased student attendance and higher performance, wrote Scott in a letter on the district's web site.

The basic study design involves connecting with parents through phone calls and mailings containing important information about their child’s attendance. 

The Harvard Research Team, according to Scott's letter to parents, was granted access to student and parent data, including attendance, grades, addresses and phone numbers for the sole purpose of the study. 

"I believe that the town and Harvard have gone about this research project backwards," said Framingham parent Beth Adler, in a chat group about the Framingham schools. "We have to sign permission for our children to be photographed in school. We have to give permission for our children to go on field trips. We need to actually give our permission for anyone other then school officials to have access to our children's files. Just because I don't sign a piece of paper saying no, doesn't mean I give you permission to look at any school files pertaining to my children."

"We shouldn't have to call anyone and request anything," said parent Magda Janus. "Harvard wants to do research, they should inform parents directly and ask our permission. I understand it supposed to benefit parents and schools but we (all of us on this site) are already involved in our kids education and we would know if our kids were missing school. If this study starts out on a bad note with parents who already are involved, just imagine how well it will work for those who should benefit from it."

Framingham Patch heard from parents at Framingham High and a couple of the elementary schools that never received the opt out letters as of Monday, Sept 9. Dr. Scott, in a phone interview today, said the letters were sent out via mail.

And according to some parents, the school district may have ignored its own directive by not providing translation of the opt-out letter in Spanish and Portuguese. Parents at both Potter Road and Brophy said they did not see translated letters. 

"Should be opt in. It is not informed consent if you have to opt out. A lot of parents I know at different schools never got the form. Too much opportunity for mistakes to happen and forms not to be received. I don't believe it went out in translated form (at least where I am) so do ELL/ESL parents have informed consent? The schools won't let fellow parents have contact info for their own child's classmates for birthday party invitations or room parent messages, but strangers have access to every child's grades, attendance, home addresses, telephone numbers and more and these strangers in Boston can call you at home to discuss your child," wrote Brophy parent Tanya Lipp on the TWPTO's Facebook page.

"We recognize there were some problems and discomfort in the initial implementation," said Scott. "We apologize for any inconvenience." 

In regards to having the project be a mandatory opt-in unless a signed opt-out form is given to the school district, Scott said the project had educational value and the district has the option to do that.

Research has shown that a high rate of absenteeism is an indicator of high dropout status. Therefore, it is appropriate to pursue the understanding of how attendance relates to student performance. This attendance study may deliver strategies to improve the future success of students in their education.

"We understand that there were some concerns about the implementation of this study. We always appreciate feedback from the community regarding the implementation of school district programs," said Framingham School Committee Chair Beverly Hugo. "The School Committee agrees with our administration that we should temporarily suspend the study until all are assured that the procedure to obtain consent for research has been properly received."

We do look forward to a successful partnership with Harvard and other research institutions

"Parents should have control over the release of their childrens' educational data through the written consent process. This should have been an opt-in, not an opt-out. I never even saw an opt-out opportunity for either of my kids," wrote Linda Dunbrack, a Framingham High parent on the TWPTO's Facebook page.

Scott, in a letter to parents posted on the district's web site, wrote "data we collect will be kept confidential by the research team and will only be publicly reported as group data. No individual student will ever be publicly identified. Individual survey responses will not be shared with any Framingham Public Schools’ teachers or staff. Only summary findings will be shared with the public and with the Framingham Public Schools. Five years after the completion of the study, the Harvard Research Team will destroy all research findings and relevant information."

"My child's MCAS contains medical information, and should not be released by the school or anyone without my or my husband's express written permission. That treads dangerously close to breaking HIPPA if not smashing it all to heck," wrote parent Lisa Richards on the TWPTO"s Facebook page.

The project is being led by Todd Rogers with Harvard University's Kennedy Center for Public Leadership.

"The study will have long term benefits for the district," said Scott.

"We expect that the research value of this study will not only have significant impact on the field of education, but will also help us in addressing the issues of attendance, punctuality and improved academic performance," wrote Scott to parents.

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