There are big issues to write about in San Diego schools — the budget crisis, the controversy over a planned labor agreement on the facilities bond, the amount of testing — but little problems count too. This is a little story that illustrates a bigger problem: How well schools protect information about their students.

I heard about this one from parent Sally Smith, who feels that the practice of having Spanish classes specifically for Spanish speakers is discriminatory and segregates them into a separate class instead of putting them into a more advanced class. So she complained to the school district about the issue.

But the response to her complaint ended up annoying her just as much — maybe more — and not just because San Diego Unified wrote back arguing that her complaint was unfounded and no discrimination had occurred.

To back up its points that students had been correctly placed in their classes, San Diego Unified included some e-mails between Spanish teachers that revealed how individual students had scored on Spanish placement tests and which of them had failed their last English class. The e-mails included their full names.

Oops. Revealing student information like that is a major no-no under the law. Smith was upset. And the information was released in November — just after San Diego Unified had done an internal report that certified that student information was well protected and employees understood the rules. I called up Jose Gonzales, deputy general counsel for the school district and the guy who signed off on the complaint, to ask what happened.

He agreed that student records — including test scores and grades — are not supposed to be released to outsiders. Even to make a point.

“It was a mistake. That’s all there is to it,” Gonzales said.

Feel free to tell me about problems — big, small and in between — and triumphs in your school. You can send me an e-mail at


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