What does it take to protect student privacy?

 

We often discuss privacy in terms of what needs to be done to protect student data but the thing that has become clear in my conversations with different stakeholders is the need to focus on providing training and awareness to everyone involved in working with student data. In particular, teachers and school administrators.

Though there are numerous federal and state laws that regulate privacy and we are slowly building a greater awareness of what we need to do to increase protections for student data, I feel that we are often missing the point in these debates and conversations. There seems to be more information shared about students than ever before. Sometimes, teachers with all the good intentions breach a student’s privacy revealing deep personal details about their students. And even though this point is important, there is an even greater need for teachers and school administrators to understand that student data can be leaked, because of a mistake or misunderstanding on the implications of disclosing student data. Disclosing student data can hurt students. If a teacher is discussing a student, or group of students, struggling with certain issues then that student’s privacy was not protected. And failure to respond to these incidents can damage the relationship between teachers, parents, schools, etc. The trust we need to build upon is lost.

Privacy “accidents” happen, but we need to invest in educating schools on what are adequate privacy protections, what are best practices for discussing student information and protecting their privacy so they do not happen unnecessarily. There are a number of privacy best practices across other industries in which employees are trained. We need to have this structure available to schools. If we are going to invest time and funding to develop laws at the Federal and State level, we need to invest in “privacy education” for educational institutions. We must be able to explain in clear and easy terms – what does it mean to protect student privacy, what issues schools need to be educated on and why it matters. Recently the US DOE created PTAC – the best source for government guidance to learn about data privacy and of course the one stop shop for all things on student privacy and ed-tech FERPA|Sherpa (shameless plug). These are great resource, full of important information and videos, but I believe we need to be able to give teachers a support system that will enable and encourage them to learn more about privacy. We can’t just leave it up to them and hope schools are taking privacy seriously.

We leave our children in the care of teachers whom we trust. They are charged with making good decisions on behalf of our children. To do so, they require our support.

 

 

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