Teachers, Privacy Protections and the Law

Teachers, Privacy Protections and the Law

2 years ago, the student data privacy debate sparked and created an awareness not only between schools and vendors but also with legislators. Parent concerns grew at this time as the controversy surrounding inBloom grew and fears of misuse of student data increased. In response to this, legislators in 36 states introduced 110 bills on student data privacy. By 2015, we saw even more legislation with 188 bills introduced. SOPIPA came into effect which addressed the need for regulation of the Ed-Tech industry. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing SOPIPA but what we didn’t discuss much was a law passed in 2013 in Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s student Data Accessibility, Transparency, and Accountability Acts (DATA Act) places its focus on the staff at the school, district, and state levels. At a time when parents were demanding transparency on how student data is gathered and used, this law did just that. For example, the law required that vendor contracts include provisions that safeguard privacy and included penalties for non compliance as Amelia Vance explains in NASBE’s Data Privacy Report. The law also restricted the ability to collect unnecessary sensitive data such as social security numbers and biometric information. Transparency in how and what data is collected is paramount in developing trust among parents. However, restricting the collection of certain data can bring unintended consequences. For example, limiting the ability to collect certain biometric data on students who have a learning disability. Let’s say a teacher is tracking eye movement and response to a child working on their reading skills. If a teacher can’t chart a student’s progress based on data collected they can’t have an effective assessment of that student.

Most recently, the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) introduced a model bill that could add privacy protections for students. But again, language meant to protect students could make it cumbersome for technology to be used to enhance student learning. The proposed bill includes language that parents opt in every time there is new technology used in the school. That could be somewhat complicated….just sayin’

Presenting parents with the information on what, how and why data is collected on students is what enables the dialogue between parents, schools and the Ed-tech world. We can all feel better that we have many laws, bills, proposed legislation and all of that, all of this work can be undone by school staff or teachers inadvertently disclosing student information or the use of technology in the classroom without adequate student privacy protections. So as much as we can argue that student privacy is important, that companies are working to ensure proper privacy protections none of it matters if we don’t have adequate training for school staff in particular teachers. Helping teachers understand student privacy is not only from a data collection perspective. They also need to understand privacy matters when they post their student’s work on social media or on school data walls with the student’s name for the school to see. But more importantly, as much as companies pledge to protect student data, if a teacher cannot explain to a parent how technology is used in the classroom how are they to partner with parents. We lose the opportunity to build a team composed of parents, school staff and tech companies that work together to protect student data and privacy. A new resource to help teachers understand student privacy was released by the Future of Privacy Forum and ConnectSafely appropriately called the Educator’s Guide to Student Data Privacy. This is a fantastic resource to help teachers use technology in the classroom responsibly and protect their students’ privacy.

Because think about it, if we trust our children to a school every day and we trust they are being taken care of, we should be able to trust schools and teachers are protecting our kid’s privacy as well.



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