Clark-Pleasant school board approves contract for SEL survey vendor

Clark-Pleasant School Board members split on a vote to approve a contract with a third-party vendor to distribute social emotional learning surveys for all grade levels.

The 3-2 vote to push the contract with Panorama Education forward comes after the board denied the contract last month because of concerns about data storage and what questions would be asked.

Board members Linda Polesel and Butch Zike voted against the contract. Both members have said they would rather the school collect this information internally, instead of using a third-party vendor. Polesel is also generally against school-wide surveys anyway, she has said.

“I continue to have concerns both over the security of student data and the company foundations itself,” Polesel said. “I believe our corporation would be better served by developing relationships with students to focus on individual needs as they arise and that any such survey for our population be created, administered and kept in house.”

The survey distributor, Panorama Education, is a third-party educational materials distributor and data collector used by schools around the country. Based in Boston, the company largely specializes in social emotional learning data studies in schools, according to its website.

Clark-Pleasant is conducting these surveys because it is part of a requirement for the Project AWARE grant approved in January from the Indiana Department of Education. Clark-Pleasant joined the cohort to work on creating “sustainable school-based mental health systems and supports for future statewide implementation.”

With the funding from Project AWARE, Clark-Pleasant is receiving $38.39 per student, and a salary for a district-wide wellness coordinator annually until December 2026. The money from the grant is paying for the contract with Panorama Education. Panorama is an IDOE-approved vendor, which factored into Clark-Pleasant’s choosing of the company, officials have said.

The school established four goals for using the grant, and one of those includes “being proactive to identify students who might need additional support.” That is where a universal screener, or survey, comes in.

School officials have said universal screeners are designed to capture student voices, and learn where they can make changes to better help students. The school behavior health department identified five topics the surveys will focus on: school safety, student well-being, supportive relationships, emotion regulation and social awareness.

At the board’s work session last week a parent from Whiteland shared her story of being a victim of domestic abuse and how it affected her children. She again asked the school board on Tuesday to approve the contract to help children in crisis.

“I can’t stress that enough that children are suffering,” she said. “Sometimes as parents we get wrapped up in our own minds. Sometimes we don’t see our children and the depths of what they’re going through or their suffering. I didn’t, but I wish that I had a warning.”

Some parents had concerns about using Panorama, specifically how student data would be stored and how it is connected to each student. Panorama stores data on a cloud-based system, according to the contract. Data would be tied to individual students, so the school can identify students who may be in a crisis or need more help.

Several members of the public attended the Tuesday meeting, but only one parent spoke against approving the contract.

Parent Heather McMurry has been vocal against using Panorama, and asked the board on Tuesday to again hold their decision on approving the contract. She pointed out she was concerned that data is hosted and processed from a facility in Virginia.

“This is dangerous. The data collection, the privacy intrusion, the data tracking … it was sold to you as a contract for surveys, it’s not. It’s a toolkit, a dashboard that shows disruptive behaviors. Bad reports are going to be put out into a storage facility somewhere else,” McMurry said. “That should be kept in-house and destroyed once the student leaves the schools.”

McMurry also pointed out that the Hamilton Southeastern School Board ended its contract with Panorama last week. The board voted the contract down over privacy concerns related to how data was gathered, and whether it could be tied to individual students, according to an article from the Current, a news website covering Hamilton County. HSE had been in contract with Panorama since spring 2019, and conducted surveys twice a year, according to the article.

Clark-Pleasant school officials have said student data is encrypted, so it cannot be easily accessed or hacked. Panorama follows all privacy laws including the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Per the contract, Panorama also cannot sell or share its student data with any third-party company, unless authorized by the school.

Panorama partners with Independent Security Evaluators to run penetration tests against platform systems. For platform infrastructure, ISE checks firewall configurations, database security, and internal access controls, according to the Panorama contract. Panorama’s Security and Privacy programs are also compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology standards.

Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray also said the school ran the cloud infrastructure system by its own cybersecurity engineer. He added that each student’s data will be destroyed within one year of their graduation from the school district, so it will not be kept forever.

Kim Livorno, a Franklin resident and vice president of the right-wing nonprofit Purple for Parents of Indiana, also spoke before the school board against signing a contract with Panorama. She had concerns about data storage, and also said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is an investor in Panorama. She said with that, information given to Panorama could be politicized because Zuckerberg is a “left-wing political activist.”

“Panorama does not know these children. You guys know these children,” Livorno said.”I am not for surveys at all. I am for education and improving our education system.”

Later in the meeting, Livorno also tried to tell the board Panorama does not have to comply with FERPA, even though it does, according to its contract with Clark-Pleasant. She asked the board if they’d be willing to be investigated if there were ever alleged violations of FERPA.

Board member Kent Beeson told her, “damn straight,” he would.

“That is one thing, and I’m pretty confident other board members will never back down from complete transparency,” Beeson said.

Livorno again asked him “how do you know that?” and they had a brief argument before Beeson yelled, “I’m done!” at Livorno. Livorno then said he could not talk to her like that because she is a taxpayer. She is not a taxpayer in the Clark-Pleasant school district because she lives in Franklin.

With the contract approved, the plan is to form a committee to oversee creation of the surveys and choose the questions. The selected questions will be sent to parents ahead of time, as well as an option for them to opt their children out of the surveys. Clark-Pleasant plans on distributing the surveys between May 11 and May 20.

Legislation at the Statehouse, which Polesel and Livorno pointed out, could affect how third-party surveys are distributed in schools.

House Bill 1447 would require schools to get written consent from parents if they want to conduct a survey and connect the data to the individual student. It would require the school to send two requests for written consent before administering the survey, instead of just giving the survey to all students with an option to opt out.

The bill would also require schools to post the surveys or analyses online and send parents a notice explaining why the survey is being conducted.

HB 1447 passed 94-0 in the House last month and was up for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday afternoon but no vote was taken. If it does become law, it likely would not cancel out Clark-Pleasant’s contract with Panorama, and they would just have to change their consent methods to comply with the law.