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In Palm Beach County, concerns about how student's private health data is protected online

 The Florida High School Athletics Association asks female athletes about their periods along with three dozen other questions on mental and physical health
Katherine Kokal
/
Palm Beach Post
The Florida High School Athletics Association asks female athletes about their periods along with three dozen other questions on mental and physical health.

The Palm Beach Post’s Katherine Kokal outlined how the move has worried some about how the private health data is stored and protected. In this interview, she discusses the issue.

In a post-Roe world, the move of student-athlete health information online has led to an outcry over reproductive privacy. WLRN' sSherrilyn Cabrera spoke with the Palm Beach Post's Katherine Kokal, who reported on the story.

Florida student athletes must report any medical conditions to their schools before registering to play for the season. They’re required to fill out a detailed annual physical form with a physician, which is then submitted to athletic directors.

But this year, Palm Beach County Public Schools decided to move these forms online — including a section about menstrual history. Those questions are not mandatory, but the move has raised concern among parents.

In recent reporting by the Palm Beach Post’s Katherine Kokal, she outlined how the move has worried some about how the private health data of students is stored and protected online.

"I think what's important about this story and why it's newsworthy now is that people are really rethinking their reproductive privacy," said Kokal, who covers education for the Post.

 Palm Beach Post education reporter Katherine Kokal
Katherine Kokal

"There are a lot of abortion rights activists and reproductive privacy advocates who say that these are shocking and scandalous because they're looking at it kind of through a new lens in a world, where Roe v Wade is not the law of the land."

After some parents expressed their concerns in an August school board meeting about not being able to opt-out of submitting their child’s information online, the district decided to allow the option to submit the necessary health information on paper.

"There are a lot of safeguards within the school district policy to ensure that this data isn't sold," said Kokal. "But there are also a lot of question marks because (third-party software firm) Aktivate is such a new company.

"When I asked them about what kind of ways they would share student data, it was clear that they hadn't really gone through all of the potential ways that data could be used."

This interview was edited lightly for clarity.

Why were these athlete registration forms moved online?

So the idea behind it is that if you are coaching a baseball game and someone gets injured, you would be able to access this information on your phone. Okay, here's the parent of this athlete. Here is the fact that they have an allergy to penicillin or something, that all that information can then be stored and accessed digitally.

What do we know about the third-party software company the school district is using to upload these forms? 

This is a software company that launched in September of 2021. Aktivate is a software system that says that being able to put all this information online streamlines the process so you're not drowning in paperwork.

Have you heard from parents and students? What are they saying about this?

There are a lot of abortion rights activists and reproductive privacy advocates who say that these are shocking and scandalous because they're looking at it kind of through a new lens in a world where Roe v Wade is not the law of the land. Palm Beach County Fall Sports had a deadline of mid-August where all of the athletes had to be registered online in order to play. And at the school board meeting right before that deadline, parents came to say, you are giving us no other option than to use this online vendor and we don't trust it. The school board said, okay, we are going to allow people to register on paper this year and we'll take some more time to work on the rollout of this.

How is the school district ensuring that the data is secure? 

Well, Aktivate is held liable. In order to do any business with the school district they need to sign a privacy policy that says that they will not only protect student data, but also that they will only allow employees who have a legitimate interest in accessing it to access it, and that it can't be shared. So there are a lot of safeguards within the school district policy. But there are also a lot of question marks because Aktivate is such a new company. When I asked them about what kind of ways they would share student data, it was clear that they hadn't really gone through all of the potential ways that data could be used. But I asked them about specifically the menstrual data and a representative of the company said, you know, we haven't really thought about that.

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During her time at Florida International University, where she recently graduated from with a Bachelors in Journalism, Sherrilyn Cabrera interned for the South Florida News Service - a digital journalism platform where stories are written, shot and edited by FIU students. As part of her senior project, she reported on the influx of Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida after Hurricane Maria, and the impact it could have had on the November 2018 midterm elections.
Alyssa Ramos