COVID-19 has disrupted education and has forced schools to pivot quickly to a distance learning approach, which is often virtual. Using virtual learning products comes with concerns about student privacy, including for students receiving special education and related services. Federal privacy laws don’t explicitly address how to handle every situation, but concerns about privacy should not be a barrier to serving students as best as educators are able. This guide is designed to provide an overview of major relevant privacy laws and to help educators think through common scenarios that might present privacy concerns, particularly for students with disabilities.
Looking Ahead: School Reopening Plans and Student Privacy
Schools and districts are beginning to create plans for reopening schools in the fall while also working to mitigate health risks for students and staff. This is an extraordinarily difficult balance to strike, and some organizations and government agencies are recommending measures such as student temperature checks, symptom screening, and assigning risk levels to students based on their health and other factors. Each of these measures is intended to protect the health of students, families, and staff, but they also involve a significant amount of sensitive data collection. This raises critical questions about how schools will collect, use, and store student health data. As such, schools and districts must consider:
- For what purpose is the data being collected
- How will the data be used?
- Where will the data be stored and for how long?
- Who will have access to the data?
In addition, students with disabilities and students with special health care needs who may be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus may be at risk of discrimination based on their health or disability status. Data about health or disability status must never be used to track students in any way or to limit their educational access or the types of opportunities available to them. School leaders, educators, and families should be cognizant of these risks and commit to ensuring that their reopening plans protect students’ data and students’ educational rights in the coming year.