OSBI to investigate Dove Charter Schools
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will open an investigation into Dove Charter Schools officials, which have been accused of illegally accessing and sharing confidential student information.
An OSBI spokeswoman confirmed on Friday that the agency intends to open a criminal investigation into the case. The OSBI received evidence this week of alleged wrongdoing by Dove officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
The Department of Education accused Dove in a lawsuit Tuesday of illegally accessing student records and sharing them with a third party. The Education Department confirmed Thursday that it and OMES referred the case to the OSBI for review.
“Obviously we will cooperate fully and look forward to getting this issue resolved,” Dove Superintendent Ibrahim Sel said in a statement Thursday.
State education officials alleged Dove wrongfully accessed the State Student Information System to obtain records of 107,000 children who were not — and never had been — enrolled in Dove schools.
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the department received “alarming” complaints Feb. 14 of student information being unlawfully obtained and shared.
The department sent a letter to Dove the next day, saying such conduct would be a violation of multiple state and federal laws, including the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.
Dove shared the information with a third-party mailing company, which sent recruitment mailers to 107,000 fifth and sixth graders in Oklahoma, the lawsuit states.
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Sel said in a statement Wednesday that the mailing company has permanently deleted the information.
“We realize that our having access to such lists — and our subsequent mailing to that list — upset many parents and teachers,” Sel said. “We respect each family’s privacy and did not intend to cause alarm. For that, we are truly sorry.”
Sel, administrator Ilhan Guzey and the Dove Public Charter School Foundation were named as defendants in the Education Department’s lawsuit.
The Dove Public Charter School Foundation oversees four Dove schools in Oklahoma City and three in Tulsa. It plans to open a new virtual charter school later this year called Oklahoma Information and Technology School, or OITS.
Many of the mailers included invitations to apply to the new school. Other mailers sent applications for Dove Charter Schools to children who lived within the schools’ enrollment areas, according to the lawsuit.
These mailers arrived unsolicited at thousands of homes across the state. Many confused parents took to social media, asking how Dove or OITS knew their children's full names and addresses.
Sel and Guzey had legal access to the student information system, but only for records of students who attended Dove schools. The State Student Information System contains student names, ages and demographic information.
It does not include children’s grades, test scores, Social Security numbers, medical records or discipline reports.
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson is representing Dove in the lawsuit. He said Wednesday that Dove had agreed not to access records of any students outside of its schools.
“We've reached an agreement with the department on a temporary restraining order that would prohibit us from using any of the data on an ongoing basis, which we were very agreeable to,” Edmondson said. “I think this is going to be resolved on a fairly amicable basis.”
Federal law says school officials can’t obtain student information unless they have a “legitimate educational interest” to fulfill professional responsibilities.
“Neither Dove Charter Schools, Sel, Guzey nor OITS had a legitimate educational interest in the information accessed, used, possessed and subsequently disseminated to third parties,” the lawsuit states.