Educator’s Guide to Student Privacy

The Educator’s Guide to Student Privacy, written by teachers for teachers, covers several topics, including:

Why should classroom teachers care about student data privacy?

There are legal and ethical restrictions that impact districts, school, and teachers. Traditionally, student data consisted of things like attendance, grades, discipline records, and health records. Access to that data used to be restricted to the administrator, guidance counselor, teacher, or other school official who needed it to serve the educational needs of the child. With the use of technology in schools, traditional data is now often shared with companies that provide Student Information Systems (SIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), and many other technologies. Parents, students, and others have raised concerns about what information is being collected or shared, and what use those companies might make of that data.

Teachers should be aware of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and applicable state laws, along with their district or school policies regarding the use of educational products and services from ed tech vendors. (More on FERPA and other laws below)

New technologies—including personal computers, mobile devices, apps, websites, programs, and online services—are used in classrooms in ways that cause new data to be generated about individual students that never existed before including drafts and edits as they are recorded and showing the pacing and record of their performance through a math or reading program.

Communications between students and teachers, or students and other students—along with everything from last night’s math homework to the metadata of their online behavior while immersed in an app—is now created, collected, and often held by third party educational technology vendors.

Teachers are ethically obliged to follow and model good digital citizenship practices and behaviors with their students. This includes thinking carefully about the digital products and processes that are incorporated in any project or lesson design.

What constitutes student data?

Information that is tied to individual students is referred to as personally identifiable information, or PII, and is subject to additional restrictions in laws and regulations.

Student personal information includes any information about a student’s identity, academics, medical conditions, or anything else that is collected, stored, and communicated by schools or technology vendors on behalf of schools that is particular to that individual student. This includes a student’s name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs, and other information necessary for basic administration and instruction. It also includes the data created or generated by the student or teacher in the use of technology—email accounts, online bulletin boards, work performed with an educational program or app, anything that is by or about the individual student in the educational setting. Some student personal information such as social security number, is highly sensitive and collection may be barred by state law.

Other sections of the guide cover:

  • What is an education record?
  • What if I want to use an education app or tool and I don’t know if my school/district has vetted it?
  • What should I do if my school has already vetted an app or tool?
  • What about companies that provide online tools to schools?
  • What should I do if a student suggests an unvetted education app to use for a project?
  • What if my students and/or I want to use or recommend a technology tool that was not specifically designed for education?
  • What are the federal and state laws that we need to follow?
  • Some questions to help you quickly evaluate whether an app, website, product, or service will protect your students’ information.

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