5 Things Educators Need to Know About Student Data Privacy

5 Things Educators Need to Know About Student Data Privacy

A new Student Privacy Communications Toolkit from the Future of Privacy Forum includes detailed resources and information on protecting and preserving student privacy. While the toolkit was developed with school and district leaders in mind, it contains information, advice, and recommendations of interest to all education stakeholders. FPF will be sharing these audience-specific best practices and tips in the coming weeks. Don’t miss our post with takeaways for parents here.

Educators are typically the first point of contact for parents with questions or frustrations about the use of edtech or other student data by the school or district; educators may also have questions of their own about which tools they can safely use in their classrooms. As educators are the first point of contact and often the primary source of information for parents, it is extremely important that educators feel prepared to address any privacy-related issues and are well-informed regarding student data collection, use, and protection. Here are five key takeaways from the Student Privacy Communications Toolkit for educators:  

  • Student data is an invaluable tool for educators, allowing districts, schools, and teachers to better serve students.
    A lot of what you will hear as educators about student data privacy (including, admittedly, in this post) focuses on what not to do, from downloading new apps to posting on social media. But it is just as important to keep in mind that when collected and used appropriately, student data can be an invaluable tool that allows educators to track student progress and plan appropriate interventions if or when they are needed, ultimately improving a student’s educational experience.
  • Your school or district should have a student privacy policy, and educators have an important role to play in upholding it.
    Protecting student privacy is the right thing to do and your school or district should have a comprehensive privacy policy in place to help keep student data safe. You can (and should) access and consult that policy at any time as needed. As an educator, you have access to some student data necessary for monitoring student progress and creating individualized learning plans. This means you are responsible for ensuring that it is not lost, accessed, or shared without proper authorization. There are serious consequences if these policies are not followed — the entire school or district could lose public trust and face other repercussions, such as costly lawsuits.
  • Think before you post about – or interact with – students on social media.
    Be careful posting any information about your students online. While posting a picture on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or another social media platform may seem harmless, this may inadvertently subject students to cyberbullying or reveal sensitive information, such as their whereabouts, to unwanted parties. Using social media to facilitate online learning is also tricky and presents multiple privacy and equity risks. Read more on social media and online learning here. 
  • Ask before you download a new app or tool for your classroom.
    To ensure the apps used by students are privacy-protective and comply with the relevant student privacy laws, your school likely has established processes for vetting new apps and tools. These policies are not meant to limit creativity or infringe on your professional perspective, rather they are in place to help ensure the safety and privacy of you and your students.

    In addition to the school or district’s processes, you can also choose to consult a resource like the Common Sense Privacy Program for expert third-party evaluations of edtech tools’ privacy policies and to assess your school or district’s pre-approved websites and online tools, as well as any others you may be considering using in your classroom.
  • You can (likely) record a video lesson, keeping a few exceptions and best practices in mind.
    Educators are clear to record lessons so long as no FERPA-protected student personal information such as their name, likeness, or voice, is disclosed in the recording. Educators should consider recording only their portion of the lesson (no student discussions or interactions) and be transparent with students and their families about when lessons are recorded, how long the recordings are kept and who can access them, and the ability of students to opt-out of attending a live recording. You should also check with your school or district’s policy on whether you can record your lessons and where to store these recordings. Read more on the use of video classrooms here.

To view and download the full Student Privacy Communications Toolkit, click here.

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