Court orders California Department of Education to disclose student information to litigants

A federal district court has ordered the California Department of Education to disclose personal student information – including documents and data dating back to 2008 – to plaintiffs who initiated a lawsuit against the state agency.

The CDE has more information and a form to register objections on this webpage, but here’s some background on the case:

Califonria Department of Education LogoIn April 2012, the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association and the Concerned Parent Association filed suit against the California Department of Education, alleging non-compliance of special education laws by local educational agencies. The suit alleges the CDE failed to monitor, investigate and correct the non-compliance in accordance with the law.

The CDE has denied these allegations and says it is actively defending against the litigation. Nevertheless, as part of the discovery process, the state department has been ordered to produce all data collected on general and special students who have attended a California school at any time since Jan. 1, 2008.

The CDE says it contested the release of student information but to no avail. The court has, however, prohibited the plaintiffs and their attorneys from sharing confidential material with anyone outside the case. In other words, no student records are to be disclosed to the public.

You may already know that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, was designed to protect student privacy, and it generally requires parental consent before an educational agency may disclose personal data. But there are exceptions, including court orders.

Examples of the information stored on the CDE’s databases and network drives include names, social security numbers, addresses, demographics data, course information, assessment results, and behavior and discipline records.

To comply with FERPA laws, the CDE is required to inform parents and students of the disclosure, and in fact school districts and other educational agencies throughout the state — including OCDE — are helping to spread the word by sharing the following link on their websites:

The CDE webpage includes the official notice, as well as an objection form that parents can fill out and mail before April 1. There’s also a number to contact the CDE with additional questions.

OCDE’s College and Career Preparatory Academy offers a path to graduation and much more

Kirstie Suarez’s family moved several times when she was in high school, bouncing between California, North Carolina and Florida before Suarez took her final classes at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana.

Somewhere along the way, she fell two classes short of graduating.

CCPA-logo.jpgFive years later, Suarez has made up that ground, and rather quickly, thanks to the College and Career Preparatory Academy, a brand new charter school approved by the Orange County Board of Education to assist young adults in need of a diploma or a path to higher learning.

“I work fulltime, so I don’t have a lot of time to be taking extra classes,” said Suarez, 23. “I walked in that first day and they immediately gave me assignments.”

Administered by the Orange County Department of Education, the College and Career Preparatory Academy represents a first of its kind for the county. It’s designed to fill gaps in services currently available to young men and women who are 18 to 25 years old and have aged out of the school system but still need to complete their graduation requirements.

Data shows more than 100,000 match this profile in Orange County alone. Despite an 85.3 percent graduation rate, more than 4,000 local students leave high school each year without their diplomas.

The College and Career Preparatory Academy offers them a way back, providing much needed flexibility to pursue lost credits at no cost. But it isn’t just about finishing high school. The academy also prepares students for college and career success, says Director Byron Fairchild.

“This program supports re-engagement in learning and workforce preparation,” Fairchild says. “It’s about expanding options within our county and strengthening the bridge connecting K-12 education, adult education and higher education to prepare students for productive workforce and career opportunities.”

The College and Career Preparatory Academy began operations in the fall, welcoming its first students on Sept. 9 from a single storefront building in Santa Ana. Word of mouth has since swelled enrollment to about 100 with two additional sites — one in Anaheim and a second Santa Ana location — but school leaders have much bigger ambitions. Additional locations are planned for the west, central and south regions of the county, and Fairchild says the school is capable of serving up to 1,200 students.

Dinah Ismail
College and Career Preparatory Academy teacher Dinah Ismail helps customize instruction to meet the needs of each student.

Teacher Dinah Ismail has been with the academy from the beginning. She says what’s most unique about the program is that it’s highly customizable to fit the busy lives of its students.

“These are often full-time parents, students who work full time, students who work graveyard shifts, so the flexibility of this program is something they’re very grateful for,” she said.

Most who enroll study at home with the help of an online learning tool called GradPoint, a product offered by Pearson Education. They then visit the academy for an hour or more a week for additional support and tutelage. Those who don’t have a computer can work from textbooks, and some have the option of checking out a laptop. Ismail said mobile hotspots will soon be added to the menu of available technologies for students without reliable Internet connections.

Suarez, who works full time for a local public agency, said she was able to complete two courses in about a month.

“The flexibility, that was my main concern,” she said. “I was able to take classes online after work and during lunch. I was very focused.”

Ismail says it’s all about customizing instruction to meet the needs of each student. If that means talking over the phone or exchanging text messages to explain specific lessons, so be it.

“It’s amazing. I’ve been in education in one way or another for 20 years, teaching for 13, but this is my favorite assignment because my students are at such a pivotal and awesome age in their lives,” Ismail said. “They’re coming back and figuring out what they want to do with their careers and their lives and their educational paths. I feel very lucky to be a part of that process and to help navigate that path with them.”

Data would indicate students who go back to get their diplomas are making a very wise decision. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average high school dropout earns $20,241 dollars annually, or $10,386 less than a high school graduate. (That’s about $36,424 less than a college graduate per year.) Fairchild and his team are acutely aware of these numbers.

“This charter is unique to our county in specifically targeting this out-of-school youth population in an attempt to reduce the number of young adults without a high school diploma,” Fairchild said. “The pairing of education, job readiness and workforce preparation is the key combination to motivate and guide students through the process of earning a high school diploma and pursuing a college and career pathway.”

The doors are open. Now it’s just about getting the word out.

“A lot of the students are telling their friends, neighbors and family because they know other people who are in similar situations,” Ismail said. “There are probably a lot of other students in the county who could benefit from this but don’t know about it.”

For more information about the College and Career Preparatory Academy, including enrollment options, call Sandra Quintanilla at 714-245-6417.

Partnership between OCDE, OC Waste & Recycling wins top environmental award

GEELA2A waste-reduction partnership between the Orange County Department of Education’s Inside the Outdoors program and OC Waste & Recycling has received the state’s highest environmental honor.

On the heels of netting a major accolade from the California School Boards Association, Project Zero Waste, a service-learning program that empowers students with hands-on environmental science instruction, has earned its collaborators the prestigious Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, or GEELA.

OCDE and OC Waste & Recycling were jointly recognized — along with just 11 other organizations — Tuesday night at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento.

In the photo above, CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez, left, is joined on stage by Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County’s superintendent of schools; Isabel Rios, recycling and environmental programs manager with OC Waste & Recycling; Lori Kiesser, development director for Inside the Outdoors; and state Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach.

“This is a tremendous honor for our program,” Kiesser said. “The GEELA represents the top environmental award in the state, and it’s a testament to the collaborative efforts of Inside the Outdoors and OC Waste & Recycling, which are promoting sustainability and changing lives.”

Project Zero Waste teaches students the science of solid waste through Inside the Outdoors field trips as well as in-class lessons taught by Traveling Scientists. Program participants get to apply what they’ve learned to the design and implementation of solid waste reduction campaigns, which include campuswide recycling efforts, school gardens, community clean-up activities and other student-led activities.

The program, which in December earned the California School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Award, has offered science instruction to more than 325,000 students since it began in 2009. Follow-up assessments show these lessons increase STEM knowledge by an average of 14 percent, and schools engaging in Project Zero Waste have reduced their trash by up to 20,000 pounds annually.

Geelaseal“The lessons learned by students participating in Project Zero Waste extend beyond academics,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said recently. “In applying science lessons to develop solutions to real-world problems, students gain team-building, creativity and leadership skills.”

Established in 1993, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award is presented annually to individuals, companies and organizations that use sustainable business practices to conserve energy, reduce waste or prevent pollution while contributing to their local economy.

Finalists are selected by a panel of judges that includes the Governor’s Office and the secretaries of the California Environmental Protection Agency; the Natural Resources Agency; the Department of Food and Agriculture; the State Transportation Agency; the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency; the Labor and Workforce Development Agency; and the Health and Human Services Agency.

Each year, the panel evaluates and announces winners in the following categories: Environmental Education; Ecosystem and Land Use Stewardship; Climate Change; Zero Emission Vehicle Dealers; Sustainable Practices, Communities or Facilities; and Waste Reduction.

For more information on the GEELA program and this year’s recipients, click here. To learn more about Project Zero Waste, check out the video below, and be sure to visit the Inside the Outdoors website to get involved. 

Here’s a look at California’s new education laws for 2016

capitol.jpegA new year is upon us, and that means a raft of new state laws has gone into effect. Here at the OCDE Newsroom, we’ve been specifically tracking a handful of educational bills expected to have an impact on Orange County students and schools. Here’s a quick roundup of what’s changed as we enter 2016.


Over the summer, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277, which states that parents of students who attend public or private schools can no longer refuse to vaccinate their children based on a personal belief exemption. Though the law technically took effect Jan. 1, the 2015-16 year isn’t affected, so the real impact will be seen in the fall.

High School Exit Exam

Another new law officially suspends the California High School Exit Exam and calls for school districts to grant diplomas to students who didn’t pass the test but met all other graduation requirements, dating all the way back to the 2003-04 school year. Eligible students are advised to contact the school districts, county offices or charter schools where they completed grade 12.


Good news for cheerleading enthusiasts. Assembly Bill 949, signed by the governor in October, reclassified cheerleading as a competitive CIF sport, starting in 2017-18. In the meantime, CIF officials are tasked with creating new rules, guidelines and safety protocols.

Health education

Assembly Bill 329 makes comprehensive sexual health education mandatory in middle or high school unless parents specifically opt out. It also updates the curriculum to include HIV and AIDS prevention information.

A separate law, Senate Bill 695, makes it a graduation requirement for students to complete a course in health education that includes instruction in sexual harassment and violence.

Project Zero Waste wins CSBA’s distinguished Golden Bell award (video)

IMG_1302A waste-reduction partnership between OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors program and OC Waste & Recycling has earned the California School Boards Association’s highly regarded Golden Bell Award.

Project Zero Waste is a service-learning program that has provided hands-on environmental science instruction to more than 325,000 students since its launch in 2009. 

Participants first learn the science of solid waste through Inside the Outdoors field trips and in-class lessons taught by Traveling Scientists. Then they apply what they’ve learned to the design and implementation of solid waste reduction campaigns, which have included campuswide recycling efforts, school gardens, community clean-up events and other student-led activities.

“Receiving the Golden Bell Award for Project Zero Waste is an honor,” Lori Kiesser, development director for Inside the Outdoors, told the OCDE Newsroom. “For Inside the Outdoors and OC Waste & Recycling, it validates a successful partnership that continues to change the lives of Orange County students.”

Indeed, the Golden Bell Award is a leading educational honor in California. Now in its 36th year, the accolade goes to programs that highlight best practices in support of effective governance, teaching and student learning.

Project Zero Waste would appear to be a worthy recipient. Assessments of Project Zero Waste students show an average increase in STEM knowledge of 14 percent, and the benefits go even further. Schools engaging in the program have reduced their trash output up to 20,000 pounds annually.

“The lessons learned by students participating in Project Zero Waste extend beyond academics,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares. “In applying science lessons to develop solutions to real-world problems, students gain team-building, creativity and leadership skills.”

OCDE also received the Governor’s Award for Environmental and Economic Leadership for the Project Zero Waste program in 2011.

To learn more about Project Zero Waste, check out the video below, and visit the Inside the Outdoors website to get involved.

Mijares: Hour of Code campaign offers students an introduction to computer science

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools

With new technologies emerging at an unprecedented rate, it should come as no surprise that computer science jobs are surging. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 there will be a million more computer science positions than graduates qualified to fill them.

Al MijaresAt the same time, a recent Gallup report commissioned by Google suggests that educational opportunities in this field have been inconsistent, and entrenched stereotypes might be discouraging girls and some minority groups from participating.

So what can be done at the local level? We can start by raising awareness and promoting engaging learning experiences like Hour of Code.

For those who haven’t heard of this campaign, the Hour of Code offers a global introduction to computer science with one simple call to action: It asks every single student and as many adults as possible to write code for one hour during the week of Dec. 7.

Code is the backend text that programmers write to tell computers what to do. Writing code may sound intimidating, but it isn’t as daunting or arcane as many believe — and that’s really the point. The Hour of Code website offers self-guided activities and features tutorials, a how-to guide and options for all levels of experience and age, from kindergarten and up.

social-1“The Hour of Code is designed to demystify code and show that computer science is not rocket science, anybody can learn the basics,” says Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of “Over 100 million students worldwide have tried an Hour of Code. The demand for relevant 21st-century computer science education crosses all borders and knows no boundaries.”

Sure enough, computer science isn’t just for those who will pursue computing jobs; it serves as a foundation for college and career readiness by promoting problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. That is why I’m eager to personally take part by writing my first line of code in December, and I would encourage teachers, students, administrators, parents and support staff throughout Orange County to do the same.

Last year, Apple Stores around the world hosted an Hour of Code event, and many districts and schools participated locally. This year the Orange County Department of Education is pursuing even greater numbers to contribute to the largest learning event in history. You can help by participating, spreading the word, hosting an hour of coding or encouraging your local school to sign up.

By demonstrating that anyone can learn the basics of computer science, we open doors and shatter barriers. More important, we empower students to write their own codes and scripts for college and career readiness and success.

If you’d like more information on how to get involved with the Hour of Code campaign at the local level, contact OCDE Instructional Services Coordinator Alisa McCord at or 714-327-1063.

Orange County superintendent releases report outlining progress toward strategic priorities

Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares has released a new report assessing OCDE’s progress toward meeting its eight strategic goals.

 “Measuring Up: Strategic Priorities and Key Performance Indicators” can be accessed by clicking here, or on the graphic below.

KPI ReportLast year, the Orange County Department of Education unveiled an ambitious vision, stating that “Orange County students will lead the nation in college and career readiness and success.” Along with that vision, the department developed a five-year plan that spelled out eight strategic priorities, along with desired outcomes and key performance indicators.

The idea is to use specific metrics to track the progress of OCDE’s programs and services, as well as the overall performance of Orange County students. This data will ultimately be included in comprehensive reports that will be available to the public.

In the meantime, Superintendent Mijares and OCDE have issued this more concise and user-friendly snapshot, which offers some of the top statistics and info-graphics for each of the eight priorities. 

The report highlights some promising signs, including the fact that O.C. students posted higher average scores than California on new English and math assessments aligned with the state standards. But the data also identify areas for improvement. Using this information, OCDE will be able to strategically invest its resources to enhance services that benefit students, parents and the community.

We’d encourage you to take a look at the report, and visit the OCDE website to check out the five-year strategic plan and learn more about the steps the department is taking to ensure students graduate from high school with the competencies needed to thrive in the 21st century.

Mijares: Results of new standards-based assessments reveal local success stories

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools

In September, the state released the first batch of new assessment scores that revealed how well students are learning California’s English and math instructional standards.

The result? Orange County students had outpaced their state and regional counterparts, both on the English and math portions of the test.

Al MijaresThat’s good news, yet these inaugural scores also reflect how much more work is needed as we continue our transition to 21st-century learning standards. Indeed, we are witnessing a remarkable transformation for education that’s not unlike the construction of a new highway system; and just like building a highway, some time will be needed to fully calculate the economic benefits.

If you’re not familiar with the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, student scores in English language arts and mathematics are divided into four achievement bands — standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met and standard not met.

According to data released by the California Department of Education, 53 percent of Orange County students met or exceeded the English standard in 2015, and 45 percent did the same in math. California’s rates were nine points lower in each subject, with 44 percent of students meeting or exceeding the English standard and 34 percent meeting or exceeding the standard in math.

It’s worth noting that Orange County students actually performed better on these 2015 assessments — at every comparable grade level — than students in the county who first took the California Standards Tests back in 2002.

Drill down a little deeper and you’ll find several local success stories. At Middle College High School in the Santa Ana Unified School District, an astounding 99 percent of 11th-graders met or exceeded the CAASPP standard for English. The Irvine Unified School District posted the highest math scores in the state among districts with 25,000 students or more. And when you combine the number of students who met or nearly met the standards in Orange County, our population posted rates of 76 percent in English and 72 percent in math.

California officials have stressed that the new assessments should not be compared with those of previous years, as the tests — and the standards on which they are based — are so fundamentally different from the bubble-in versions that preceded them. Yet these results can and will serve as the baseline for measuring future progress in Orange County and elsewhere throughout the state. Even more important, they’re ensuring teachers and administrators have the information they need to make data-driven instructional decisions in the classroom.

In the end, it’s less about state and regional test scores and more about meeting the needs of each student — and ensuring all are equipped with the knowledge and skills required for college and career readiness and success.

Anaheim district is first to make OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors program available to all students (video)

Marking a first for Orange County, the Anaheim City School District is giving every one of its students the opportunity to receive quality outdoor science education through OCDE’s long-running Inside the Outdoors program.

You read that right — every student at every grade level. For Anaheim City, that means approximately 20,000 kids in transitional kindergarten through grade six will receive hands-on lessons covering science and nature.

Superintendent Linda Wagner said the investment was made as the district developed its Local Control and Accountability Plan, which annually seeks feedback from key stakeholders and allocates resources accordingly.

“Our parents have always told us how important the field trip is to their child’s full experience,” Wagner said. “Inside the Outdoors continues to set the bar by providing remarkable memories and real-life lessons for our students, and we are proud of our continued partnership.”

cc_homepageAdministered by the Orange County Department of Education, Inside the Outdoors was established in 1974 to expand students’ knowledge and stewardship of the natural environment. The program, which aligns with the state’s standards, offers 14 field trip locations in Orange County — and one in Los Angeles County — and it dispatches Traveling Scientists to schools to promote the awareness and appreciation of science. Much to the delight of students, the scientists are often accompanied by exotic and native animals, and hands-on science labs. (For more, check out the video above.)

The partnership between Inside the Outdoors and the Anaheim City School District spans four decades and has provided science instruction to an estimated 250,000 students. But this year marks the first time that every student in the district will participate.

Kelly Barrett, a curriculum specialist in Anaheim City, said all grade levels can benefit from the program’s high quality field trips, which enable students of all ages to connect with nature and engage in meaningful science lessons.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that improving environmental instruction is among the initiatives supported by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson in his recently released Blueprint for Environmental Literacy.

“Climate change, wildfires, and the drought are clear reminders of how important environmental issues are to our own lives and the health of planet Earth,” Torlakson says. “Students need to learn about the environment so they can make informed choices and help to maintain our clean water and air, and preserve our scenic resources.”

The blueprint recommends making environmental education available to all students, finding a funding source to sustain and improve instruction, working with outside organizations to ensure quality instruction and providing students with a variety of learning experiences.

Inside the Outdoors would appear to check all of the above boxes, plus one more: Students think it’s pretty cool.

“Most of us remember a field trip experience from when we were young, and it is very exciting that Anaheim students will have similar experiences and memories,” said Inside the Outdoors Operations Manager Stephanie Smith. “This is a great opportunity for students to get rich, hands-on science field trips to help them connect with what they are being taught in their classroom.”

Mijares: Research shows consistent attendance is critical to a student’s academic success

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools

This is a special time of year for educators.

While a number of Orange County schools welcomed students back in August, September is the month when all of our campuses are officially back in session, each bustling with a mix of anticipation and extraordinary promise.

Al MijaresThere are plenty of new faces, of course, as students advance grade levels, staff members change work sites and first-year educators embark on long and meaningful careers. We even have a handful of new superintendents in Orange County. Each brings stellar credentials and the passion to drive their respective districts to new heights.

Not coincidentally, September also happens to be Attendance Awareness Month, which is a good time to emphasize just how critically important it is for our students to avoid unnecessary absences throughout the year.

We know that children and teenagers can miss school for a variety of reasons. But chronic absenteeism continues to be alarmingly prevalent, particularly among low-income, homeless and transient student populations.

Our solutions should go beyond raising awareness. Schools and districts across the country must leverage proactive policies that effectively monitor trends, reward successes and build relationships with families. Through outreach and collaboration within our communities, we can remove some of the barriers that keep students off campus, including health issues and a lack of reliable transportation.

Getting off to a good start is key. According to Attendance Works, an initiative that promotes school attendance policies and practices, approximately half of all students who are absent just two to four days in September will miss nearly a month of school during the year. Unfortunately, an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million U.S. students will do just that, compromising their access to a quality education.

Additional research compiled by Attendance Works suggests frequent absences can strongly influence whether children will read proficiently by the end of the third grade. By grade six, poor attendance emerges as a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.

By contrast, students can improve academically and better their chances of graduating if we can help them get to school on time each day.

With a new year comes new challenges, but it also presents new opportunities for greatness. In Orange County, we have the people and resources to take our game to the next level and to make good on our vision of leading the nation in college and career readiness and success.

Making sure our kids are in class and ready to learn is the first step.