A FERPA Rewrite?

 

 

This year, student data privacy seems to be more popular than ever. Consider this, as of March 5th, there were 138 bills addressing student data privacy. Even more interesting is how student privacy has become such a big part of the conversation in state legislatures. The main message, seems to be, how can states keep student data safe and secure while still continuing to use it to support learning?

However, what is particularly interesting is the proposed rewrite to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This rewrite would expand parental rights, set guidelines for student data use by third parties and establish penalties for failure to follow these guidelines. Congressmen John Kline and Bobby Scott circulated a draft of the proposal amongst several organizations asking for comments. Now, I haven’t seen the draft but I hope that everyone reading this is focused on building an infrastructure which safeguards student data so we can all get the most out of the technological advances sure to come. I would love to see clear guidance for schools and other education institutions. Teachers, school board members and other personnel require training on data usage by third party vendors. It is important to get this right because as Amelia Vance, NASBE’s director of education data and technology so rightly said – When regulating student data privacy: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I see a great need to acknowledge that school personnel, school board members and third party vendors will require training on adequate data usage and protection. We can pass new laws and update FERPA, but it will not make a difference unless the people charged with carrying out these mandates are adequately prepared. The burden increasingly falls on school administrators, and what are they to do when they have limited time and are in an already budget strapped school?

The legislation will also require educational institutions to enter into a written agreements with a third parties before any data sharing can occur. This is, I believe, one of the strongest points being made on the Bill. This requirement prohibits third parties from sharing information with others unless there is a clear written agreement to do so and that this agreement is compliant with federal law. If the Bill manages to establish what requirements the written agreements should have we could be looking at increased student data protection as it relates to third party usage. Further, if strong guidelines for security standards are outlined, there could be an increase in the safety of student data as clear security standards will need to be adhered to. Requiring strong security standards for third parties will create a greater security net for student data provided there are clear and steep penalties if third parties do not comply with these requirements.

I will certainly keep an eye on this draft as it moves through. I strongly urge anyone providing direct feedback to consider that as much as strong privacy policies are essential, the ability for students to use technology, own their data and be confident it is safe, private and secure is really what matters in this debate. Let’s continue to work on protecting student data privacy. We need to be smart about how to best protect student data, because the impact of any legislation passed will be felt for years to come. Many of these consequences are unforeseeable and we do not want to hamper the development of what could be valuable tools for helping our students learn.

Any suggestions to add to the FERPA rewrite?

 

 

Guest Post: Sharing FERPA Information Online

Last week I wrote about FERPA notices and how we, as parents, can prevent our children’s schools from sharing directory information. Schools should be able to provide accessible and accurate information online on parent’s FERPA rights but this can be easier said than done as Bill Fitzgerald wrote recently.

I am delighted to introduce Bill as our guest blogger this week. Bill is the founder of FunnyMonkey, a software development company. He writes a blog focused on technology, education and student privacy and brings an important voice to the student privacy debate. Bill recently wrote a blog post on a survey he conducted on the accessibility and ease for parents to exercise their FERPA rights. With back to school in full swing, this could not have been more timely.

You can read more of Bill’s writings on his blog at funnymonkey.com/blog

Thanks Bill!


Sharing FERPA Information Online: An Incomplete Survey

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, gives students and parents rights to access, review, and dispute educational records. FERPA also attempts to define an “educational record.”

However, having rights is one thing, being able to use them is another, and being informed of those rights is yet another. In order to get a sense of how easy or difficult is is for students and parents to learn how to use their FERPA rights in different educational settings, we conducted a series of basic searches on charter school districts and large urban school districts.

Our method is pretty simple: start with a Google search on the term FERPA and the phrase “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act” limited to a specific school district or charter organization.

In some cases, we would then do a follow up search using the site’s native search for both terms separately: FERPA, followed by “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

In the text below, we link to our searches and include screenshots so you can see what we saw.

Recovery School District

The Recovery School District returns three documents via Google. Two link to gibberish, and the third has nothing about student or parent rights under FERPA.

The Recovery School District uses Google for their local site search, so the results are identical to what we see when searching via google.com.


Education Achievement Authority

The EAA has no information about FERPA on their site.

No results are returned via Google.

No results are returned via site search.


Rocketship Education

Rocketship Education returns several hits via Google, and they appear to link to pdfs for different schools. However, the pdfs appear to be scanned documents, which means that people can’t search within them using the “Find” feature of their web browser. As a result, the only way to find anything is to scroll through and skim each page, which is pretty laborious. This could be fixed by using actual html pages, having their docs available as read-only Google docs, or even uploading pdfs that have been generated directly from word processing software.

Several results are returned via Google, and I found FERPA information in their “Policies” document, which is the first result returned by Google.

Rocketship Education has no obvious site search on their site.


Aspire Schools

Aspire Schools fares pretty well when searched via Google.

Several results are returned via Google, and the third hit is for their student handbook, which includes FERPA information on pages 27-28.

However, their site search returns nothing, which is not very useful.


Green Dot

Green Dot returns several results via Google. The third hit links to the Student Policy Manual, a 125 page pdf that appears to mention FERPA several times without specifying student and parent rights under FERPA. My method for searching this doc was to use the “Find” feature in my browser, however, so if the language on FERPA was added as an image when they were creating the PDF, I would not see it.

No results are returned via site search.


Success Academy Charters

The Success Academy Charters return one result via Google. However, this document does not contain any information on parent or student rights under FERPA.

The site search returns no results.


KIPP

KIPP is a slightly different setup because it has the the main KIPP site, with local sites broken down by region.

The top level KIPP site has no results for FERPA via Google.

The top level KIPP site also has no results via site search.

However, it’s possible that the regional sites could have FERPA information – to get a sense of what the local sites shared about FERPA rights online, we can look at what comes back when we search 5 regional sites. Each regional site covers multiple schools; this search covers KIPP in Massachusetts, the San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose), Colorado, Austin TX, and Chicago IL.

This search returns three hits. None provide any information about parent or student rights under FERPA; two of the hits are a form (in Spanish and English) asking parents to renounce their rights under FERPA so their students can be included in a Mathematica Policy Research study.


YES Prep

YES Prep returns several results via Google. Included in these results are links to both English and Spanish language versions of their student handbooks. Both handbooks contain detailed information on FERPA, and also mention that students and parents have the right to opt out of directory information.

Other schools would do well to follow YES Prep’s example here.

Unfortunately, YES Prep’s native site search does not return any results.

On a technical note, if the YES Prep web team is reading this: your site runs Drupal. You could probably add this module to search within attachments.


Democracy Prep shows no results via Google.

And, Democracy Prep has no obvious search feature on its home page.


Concept

The Concept web presence is organized like KIPP; it has the main organization site in one domain, with schools at other domains. To get a sample, we searched through a subset of sites (the main organization site and five regional sites). Searching via Google brings up two hits; one is a web page that contains a variety of legal links, including two about FERPA. The second hit is a document only posted for the Columbus, Ohio schools in response to an Ohio legal case.


Uno

Uno Charter Schools show no results via Google.

Additionally, no results are returned via site search.


Noble Charter Schools

Noble Charter Schools show no results via Google.

Noble shows no results via site search.


Urban Prep

Urban Prep shows no results via Google.

Urban Prep shows no results via site search.


Chicago International Charter Schools

The Chicago International Charter Schools return many hits via Google. The first hit is an English and Spanish version that outlines basic FERPA rights, but does not mention the right to opt out of directory information. However, many of the the other hits on the page are forms that can be used to request access to data as part of research, including this form to avoid review by the data monitoring committee.


Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools shows several results via Google, but no information on FERPA at the district level. One school within CPS shows up; the link leads to the school’s information on FERPA. Based on this review, the CPS site does not have any obvious resources online showing students and parents their rights under FERPA.


Los Angeles Unified School District

Los Angeles Unified School District returns immediately relevant results via Google. The top hits include both information on FERPA and information on the review process. The LAUSD documentation also flags that students and parents can opt out of directory information.

So, while LAUSD has a hard time with technology acquisition and Student Information Systems, the visibility of their FERPA information is something that other districts would do well to emulate.


Portland

Portland (Oregon) Public Schools returns several relevant results via Google. The top hits are all immediately useful.


Boston Public Schools

BPS gives several results via Google, including their student handbook in multiple langages. The English language version of the handbook specifies that additional information on FERPA is available in each individual school.


Dallas Independent School District

DISD returns several immediately relevant results via Google. Of all the districts and organizations surveyed here, Dallas provides the most complete and helpful set of materials. They include a set of brochures on what FERPA means, an opt-out form for directory information, and their documentation includes human-readable breakdowns of the legalese. Ideally, they have versions of these documents in multiple languages.

It’s also worth highlighting that they are the only organization with a page set aside to explain FERPA on their site: http://www.dallasisd.org/ferpa – over time, I suspect that this practice will become the norm.


Conclusions

Out of all the organizations and districts reviewed here, Dallas Independent School District provides the best example of how students and parents should be informed about FERPA online. The things they do right include:

  • Set aside a page for FERPA information, at a URL (http://www.dallasisd.org/ferpa) that makes sense;
  • Include human-readable guides to FERPA;
  • Include information and a form that allows students and parents to opt out of directory information;
  • Include information defining that parents have a right to review records

It’s also worth noting that, among the public school districts surveyed, the majority of them included comparable information as Dallas, just not as well organized. The notable exception was Chicago Public Schools, where district-level information was not readily available online.

Moving on to charter school organizations, YES Prep did the best job of providing online resources. Aspire also has taken steps to make FERPA information easy to find. However, the number of high-profile charter organizations with zero information available online about FERPA is an oddly avoidable oversight. It’s especially troubling given how data and tech heavy some of these schools are – it’s imperative that both students and parents are informed of their rights by their schools. The fact that some schools have information and forms online that are used to remove parental rights under FERPA without any accompanying information that defines those rights is especially problematic.

And, it’s also worth noting that FERPA rights can be given to parents offline, on paper. It’s also possible that there are other places where schools are sharing this information online that did not get seen in this review. However, privacy concerns are going to increase, and schools need to be ahead of these concerns. Sharing accurate, useful information online is an easy step to take.

It’s back to school! Buying school supplies, meeting new friends and FERPA notices

It’s back to school time! Many parents spent the last few weeks buying school supplies, sharpening pencils and filling out forms. These first days of school are filled with excitement for what the school year will bring and the friends our children will make. But it can also be overwhelming and a challenge for parents to keep up with the flood of information sent home. Many flyers will come back home in kid’s backpacks – parent meet up night, volunteer fairs, bake sales, field trip forms and, maybe, a notice that explains your rights under FERPA. Wait! What is that?

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It was enacted in 1974 to ensure parents had access to their children’s educational records and to protect the privacy of this sensitive information. As a parent or guardian, you have the right to inspect your child’s records, request that corrections be made and opt out of your school sharing directory information with third parties.

School’s sharing information about your child? Why would a school share any information about your child? Well, here are a few examples – consider the school yearbook, the team roster with student names, the playbill of the school play or the Honor Roll listing in a newspaper. There are other ways such information could be shared and other third parties unknown to you could legally request this information, including marketers.

It’s important to keep in mind that a school can’t just decide to share this information. The school has to officially declare which information they consider to be directory information and then they have to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing this information. Typically, directory information includes basic information such as name and address, phone number, date of birth and email address. It may also include pictures, hobbies, interests and awards. FERPA requires schools to annually notify parents and eligible students of their right to opt out of sharing this directory information.

There are, however, other ways in which third parties can access your child’s data. School districts, state agencies and vendors that do everything from running the cafeteria and school buses to technology services your school may be using or requiring students to use are considered third parties with access to student data. FERPA has different rules for these type of uses and I will discuss this in future posts.

Why should parents be on the lookout? Because, according to the US Department Of Education, the actual means of notification is at the discretion of the school. So you won’t necessarily receive a FERPA notice in your child’s backpack. The notice could be in a link on the school’s website, a note on a PTA bulletin, the school calendar or student handbook and can be easily missed.

If you missed your school’s FERPA opt out notice, here is an example: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/mndirectoryinfo.html

Add student privacy to your “back to school list” and ask your school for the annual FERPA notice and decide whether you want to opt your child out of directory information disclosure.

If you want additional information you can contact the US Department of Education at 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327) or at the following address:

Family Policy Compliance Office

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202-8520

Or visit the National Opt-Out Campaign website here – http://www.opt-out-now.info

Did your school make sure you saw their Directory Information Opt Out Notice? Is it on the school’s website? Is this all news to you, as it was to me several years ago when my kids entered school and I started digging into this? Questions? Comments? I will do my best to answer or point you to the appropriate source.

Wishing you all a wonderful school year!

Olga