COLORADO SPRINGS — An amended and extended Executive Order will allow state health officials to access information about where students go to school and their vaccination status.
Governor Jared Polis issued the order Sunday which directs the Colorado Department of Education to share “student information necessary for public health purposes of ongoing COVID-19 investigation and disease mitigation" with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
"I think it is a great idea. I think it allows for more accountability, especially in schools where we don't know if contact tracing is happening or if reporting of cases is happening. I think it instills more faith for parents like me who do want their kids safe in schools," said Lara Matisek, Academy School District 20 parent.
She is among the parents who support the amended Executive Order.
"I know District 20, in particular, implemented the mask mandate last week, but there have been a lot of mixed reviews on if it's being incorporated in most schools or if teachers are really enforcing it. So I think if we all want our kids in school and safe, this is one step to help maintain that," said Matisek. "Anything that we can do to ensure not one child or one more person dies from this preventable disease."
Matisek doesn't mind student information being shared for the purpose of mitigation measures.
"The information sharing is happening not to invade anyone's privacy. This is something that has always been shared, especially with vaccine mandates. Schools have always mandated vaccines like MMR and Polio, and having that information shared allows for that tracing when vaccines are required in school to see which kids are vaccinated and which aren't," said Matisek.
She continued, "Parents or anyone who is against this is misinformed what HIPAA is and where that constitutes what would be a violation and what wouldn't be. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is an organization that has always been there and it has always provided this information to public health officials to help make policies to help ensure our kids are safe," said Matisek.
According to the order, the pandemic remains an ongoing threat to youth, especially those not yet eligible for the vaccine, and the data sharing will enable public health authorities to promptly identify the school of attendance of a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case and will assist with swift contact tracing and disease mitigation measures. In addition, it will enable public health officials to quickly cross-reference schools of attendance with data regarding the vaccination status of other students to guide local response.
"I think it is unnecessary, overreaches, and problematic because it sets precedent for the next version," said Jeff Kemp, Falcon School District 49 parent.
He doesn't see the purpose in the new directive.
"Wasn't necessary two months when we all thought we were going to die, wasn't necessary six months ago when there was another surge, and it's clearly not necessary now. Are people getting sick? Sure. Are they getting seriously ill? No. Percentages are roughly the same, if not better," said Kemp.
Kemp also believes the new tool will do more harm than good.
"They are putting our schoolhouses in this uncomfortable position of being mandatory reporters on things that don't affect kids, don't matter to kids. It is certainly not the role of our government, I've never asked to help me manage my health, I will never ask them to manage my health. I will not ask the government permission to educate my children, and I'm certainly not asking the government's help in managing my children's health," said Kemp.
He says state health officials should not have access to student information, and that it raises concerns over privacy.
"What are they going to do with it in ten, fifteen years from now. That's what we don't know, we don't know how it's going to be used but we know it builds profiles and a mechanism for the government to be more intrusive," said Kemp.
"You have a right not to like this or want this information shared but you have the right to keep your child at home and home school," said Matisek.
The order says the data sharing is permissible pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(I), which permits such data sharing with appropriate persons in connection with an emergency if the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other persons.
News 5 reached out to CDPHE to find out if school districts and their families would be able to opt-out, but we haven't heard back.