Reopening Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Issue Briefs

Reopening Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Issue Briefs

Schools and higher education institutions nationwide continue to navigate complicated decisions about in-person, remote, and hybrid learning models as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into 2021. Each of these options raises significant implications for student privacy and equity, but most reopening plans do not examine these concerns. The Future of Privacy Forum has developed a new issue brief series to raise awareness of reopening issues that are keeping us up at night. 

Issue Brief: Increased Data Collection and Sharing: Through symptom checklists, reporting apps, and other surveys, schools are collecting unprecedented amounts of sensitive health information about students and staff, and in some cases, their families and households. With this increase in information collecting, schools and higher education institutions must contemplate questions such as “how long will this information be kept?” or “what laws apply?” Read more here.

Issue Brief: Thermal Scans and Temperature Checks: Temperature checks to identify potential COVID-19 cases, conducted with a no-contact infrared thermometer or via thermal cameras in large public gathering places, have quickly become a part of life during the pandemic. Should a school invest in one? Thermal cameras are expensive, invasive, and not all that effective. Many temperature cameras are also equipped with facial recognition, which is subject to inaccuracies and racial biases. Read more here.

Issue Brief: Wearable Technologies & COVID-19: Wearables have been used in a variety of settings to assist with COVID-19 tracking and tracing, ranging from the NBA “bubble” to a Ford factory in Michigan. Schools may consider wearables to check temperatures or help with social distancing, but should first consider how the information collected through the devices will be managed, including the scope of data that will be collected, who has access to it, and how students can opt-out. Read more here

Issue Brief: Location Tracking & COVID-19:. While countries like South Korea and Taiwan had success in using location data to help fight COVID-19, various efforts in the United States have not been as effective or embraced by the public. Additionally, colleges and K-12 schools may be less effective venues for location tracking, given the difficulty in enforcing social distancing. Read more here.

Issue Brief: Online Monitoring & COVID-19: As online learning becomes more common and sophisticated, schools can track more information about students and their online behavior than ever before. Schools must be open and transparent with students and parents about their data collection and monitoring practices and focus on student care rather than over-monitoring and surveillance. Read more here.

This issue brief series is ongoing and new topics will be added as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.