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Virginia parents question school screening conducted by company with Big Tech ties

The National Desk's Ryan Smith took a close look at how COVID relief funds are being spent at one school district.{ } (ABC7 photo)
The National Desk's Ryan Smith took a close look at how COVID relief funds are being spent at one school district. (ABC7 photo)
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WASHINGTON (SBG) - Some parents in a Virginia school district are questioning how federal COVID-19 relief funds are being spent. According to Fairfax County Public Schools, the district is directing $78 million toward a "welcoming" and "culturally responsive" environment for students. That's about 42% of the $185 million allocated to the district for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund).

Much of that is intended to "support equity professional development for school teams, and social-emotional staff to work directly with departments and school-based teams."

The National Desk has learned, FCPS is spending $1.8 million from COVID emergency funds for student screenings that focus on social and emotional learning. Some questions include the topics of race, identity, and exploring a student’s mental health. The contract is with Panorama Education, which has funding ties to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google.

"Funded by another trillion-dollar company that we know is just hungry for as much personal data and information as can possibly be received, that I think raises some red flags," said parent Tiffany McCaslin.

Panorama Education has worked with school districts across the country, including Ogden, Utah, Indianapolis, and Fresno.

"Who this company is, what their qualifications are, what the overarching objectives of those programs are, and again, how they will be leveraging this data on our children over time," asked McCaslin.

Panorama Education said it has no affiliation with Facebook.

"Panorama does not share student data with Facebook. Panorama only uses educational data for the purpose of serving its schools and districts, and Panorama does not share student data with any of its funders," said a company spokesperson.

The district will allow parents to opt out of the screening process.

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A spokesperson sent the following statement Tuesday: "Panorama has signed a legally binding contract with FCPS that specifies how the data will be collected, stored, and used. The data will be used only for the purposes of serving FCPS and only for educational purposes. In addition, Panorama complies with all applicable federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), as well as state and local regulations concerning student data."

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