Student Data Privacy and Data Ethics Scenarios for School Leaders

Student Data Privacy and Data Ethics Scenarios for School Leaders

Student data privacy and data ethics are essential topics that should be included in School Leader training and professional development. School Leaders’ very role requires them to make daily decisions that impact which student data is collected or revealed, how the data is stored, how data is interpreted and used to make decisions about students, and how district and state policies are upheld in the classroom. Responsible data use is more than compliance with laws and regulations; it requires practices that ensure ethical and equitable uses of data that work to minimize the potential for harm. These responsibilities have become all the more important as schools have worked to adapt to new forms of learning prompted by the pandemic, including virtual, hybrid, and modified face-to-face. The Student Data Privacy and Data Ethics Scenarios for School Leaders are free, supplemental course materials that aim to help School Leaders understand privacy risks and ethical concerns that arise in school-based situations and provide expert guidance on how to mitigate risk and harm through discussions on the legal obligations and best practices for protecting student data privacy.


These resources were created for the professional development of K-12 School Leaders and can be useful at any point in their careers, from aspiring candidacy to veteran administrator. Professors of educator preparation programs can adopt the resources to supplement their course materials. The resources can also be used for professional development and district in-service training by school staff administrators, and educators.

How To Use the Resources

These scenarios are meant to be flexible and can be integrated into coursework and professional development training. In school leader preparation programs, they can be integrated as assignments, ancillary material, or a complete lesson. They can be used in classes, for small group discussions, and for individual students and can be parts of assignments, essays, lectures, research projects, discussion forums, or other creative projects that instructors may devise. Similarly, in professional development settings, the scenarios can be used for whole or small group discussions or ice breakers.

Users should feel free to add context and make slight modifications to the scenarios as best meets the needs of their learners. For example, aspiring school leader candidates who have not previously been exposed to school law, and specifically student privacy laws, may require additional background knowledge to engage with the scenario and discussion questions critically. We also provide a Student Privacy Primer for School Leaders that provides a foundation of data ethics and data privacy that can be used for the development of the facilitator and learners.

As the aim of these scenarios is to teach data privacy and data ethics through the discussion of authentic situations, it is critical for the instructor to use framing questions to foster discussion and critical thinking. Learners will get more out of these resources by making connections to their own experiences, learning from others, and spending time in the gray areas posed by the scenarios, as opposed to being told the “right answer”. In addition to the unique discussion questions we include with each scenario, instructors can also use the following overarching and framing questions for the discussion:

  1. What options does the School Leader have in this scenario?
  2. Why do you think the School Leader chose to do that? What do you think was their rationale?
  3. Is there anything in this situation that is covered under student privacy law? Is there anything covered under district or school policy?


The scenarios we have developed are meant to be used flexibly.  As noted above, they can be used as part of a college or graduate class or supplemental materials.  We have drafted each scenario so that a professor or instructor can integrate the materials into the curriculum for class discussion, online interactions, chats, and more.  The materials can be used for in-service training.  They can also be used for self-study.  The scenarios have been developed with the same structure.

  1. Each scenario begins with a set of Learning Objectives.  These will help the instructor to integrate the content into existing courses and link the material to professional standards.
  2. A Scenario Narrative based on an authentic situation that an administrator may face is presented.  Some scenarios are short, whereas others may be more complex.  The scenario is laid out in a way that the user is confronted with a situation that requires an understanding of data privacy and data ethics.  It is written in a way that stimulates consideration on the part of the user of what are the appropriate actions, what might be potential harms, the ramifications of decisions, and more.
  3. The scenario narrative is followed by a set of Discussion Questions.  These questions can be used by instructors in class or through virtual chats to have students discuss some of the fundamental issues encountered in the scenario.
  4. The Evidence Vault provides research studies that address the situation found in the scenario.  These references provide an evidence-based grounding for the situation and the actions administrators may take.
  5. A second set of references, In The News / In the World of Practice, includes articles that appear in the public media that relate to the scenario.  Some scenarios actually draw from the public media, whereas others use articles to show how educators have used data appropriately or less so.
  6. The section on Data Privacy and Compliance Considerations specifically addresses how these topics play out in the particular scenario.
  7. Ethics/Norms Considerations moves the discussion past data privacy principles to the role ethics play in the decision-making process.
  8. Leadership Practices and Data Use describes the role that administrators can or should play in the situation laid out in the scenario.  Often, the issues begin at a classroom level, and teachers look to leaders for guidance on handling a situation.  It is, therefore, important for leaders to understand the situation and the appropriate actions that should be taken.
  9. The final section provides additional References & Resources that pertain to the particular situation.
  10. Teaching Notes provide the instructors with guidance about how the situation might be addressed in class.  The notes highlight nuances around the role of data privacy and data ethics embedded within the scenario.
  11. Extending Activities allow for a deeper dive into the scenario.  It requires the user to consider the ramifications of the scenario.  These extended activities can be used in class or for more complex assignments.