The U.S. Department of Education has issued new online resource guidelines to help school districts and educators interpret major laws for protecting student privacy and develop best practices for using online educational services.
The report, Protecting Student Privacy While Using Educational Services: Requirements and Best Practices, issued by the department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), noted that classrooms are increasingly employing technological advances such as on-demand delivery of personalized content, virtual forms of interacting with teachers and other students, and many other interactive technologies.
“Early adopters of these technologies have demonstrated their potential to transform the educational process, but they have also called attention to possible challenges,” says the report. “In particular, the information-sharing, web-hosting, and telecommunications innovations that have enabled these new education technologies raise questions about how best to protect student privacy during use.”
Examples of online educational services include online services that students use to access class readings, see their academic progress, watch videos, or comment on class activities, the report said. Complicating the issue is the fact that “the diversity and variety” of these online educational services provide no single answer regarding which technologies, and which student data disclosures and uses, are covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
As is often the case with emerging technologies, the interpretation of existing laws such as FERPA and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment are slower to evolve than the technology itself. These issues continue to be at the forefront of discussions among educators, software companies, legal experts, and others with a stake in student data privacy.
“Student data privacy has received a great deal of national attention in recent months, with many groups working to develop resources for their own constituents and collaborating with others to determine best practices,” said National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “NSBA has been a part of this national conversation.”
NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) formed a working group on student privacy this year, which will issue a guide for school attorneys this spring. “We are producing a resource for school attorneys that will help them navigate the legal landscape and identify best practices for student data privacy protection that go beyond legal compliance,” said COSA Chair Allison Brown Schafer of the North Carolina School Boards Association. NSBA will issue guidance for school board members.
“As an education community, we have to do a far better job of helping teachers and administrators understand technology and data issues so that they can appropriately protect privacy while ensuring teachers and students have access to effective and safe tools,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “We must provide our schools, teachers, and students cutting-edge learning tools — and we must protect our children’s privacy. We can accomplish both — but we will have to try harder to do it.”
The report discussed several best practices schools should use to protect student privacy when using online educational services. Among them are: maintaining an awareness of relevant federal, state, tribal, or local laws; having policies and procedures to evaluate proposed online educational services; and being transparent with student and parents about how schools collect, share, protect, and use student data.
Read more in NSBA’s Legal Clips.