Should we all opt out?


A new school year is just around the corner and my kids will be attending new schools. Not only am I excited about the school year ahead and the experiences of being in a new school, I am also curious to see what kind of Directory Information opt out forms we receive. Should we all opt out of Directory Information? This is certainly an opt out I would consider. It is a clear way for parents to control their children’s data and prevent Directory Information from being shared with third parties.

Opting out of directory information is probably the most misunderstood of opt outs. Directory Information can be anything from student’s name, address, telephone, and email address to weight and height of students, grade level and photographs. Directory Information opt out prevents your child’s personal information from being shared, for example the team roster with student names, a playbill for the school play or the Honor Roll listing in a newspaper. There are other ways opting out prevents Directory Information from being shared with third parties unknown to parents that could legally request this information, such as marketers. It’s important to keep in mind that a school can’t just decide to share this information. Schools have 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.

However, as with any privacy and or legal discussion there is the other side of the argument. If you opt out your child’s information, there could be certain opportunities forgone, outside school program opportunities or in the case of High School kids, scholarship opportunities or other university or college correspondence they will not receive when opting out of Directory Information. Further, student’s information will not be listed in the school directory and other families will not have access to phone numbers or emails, for example, unless you provide them directly to whomever is interested in connecting. So the decision to opt out needs to be done based on what works best for each family. Also worth noting is what opting out of Directory Information doesn’t do – it doesn’t prevent students from participating in testing or other education mandated activities. This opt out only applies to schools providing information to other parties outside the school.

How did this option of opting out come into being? Well, FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 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 children’s records, request corrections be made and opt out of your school sharing Directory Information with third parties. Under FERPA, parents and students have the right to tell schools they cannot share their directory information with a third party.

It’s relatively simple to opt out (although finding the opt out forms on a school website can be nearly impossible). You can request a Directory Information opt out form from your child’s school, fill it out and return it to the school. And the best time to request the opt out form is at the beginning of the school year before schools begin to share information with third party providers.

If your school doesn’t have a FERPA form, you can download one here

The World Privacy Forum recently released a great video explaining why it’s important to #optout. Check it out here!

There are many other resources for FERPA Opt out information such as the National Opt-Out Campaign and of course our own FERPA|Sherpa (more shameless plugs)!

Wishing all the students going back to school all the best for a most fantastic (and private) school year!






Is student data really daunting?


Should we be afraid of student data? More often than not, the conversations around student data revolve around security and privacy concerns. What will happen if there is a data breach? What about security? Are we safekeeping student data adequately? But the reality is that student data is exciting. There is value in data that allows us to help students in ways we otherwise couldn’t.

I am not discounting the concerns surrounding student data privacy, but as Kerry Gallagher points out in her blog “Why is student data both exciting and daunting?” we need to ask ourselves what is the acceptable risk we should be willing to take in order to gain value out of data and protect student privacy.

Kerry Gallagher is a Technology Integration Specialist at a 1:1 iPad school serving 1500 students grades 6-12. She taught middle and high school history in Bring Your Own Device environments for 13 years and writes a blog called Start with a Question.

Kerry discusses a report recently published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University titled “Student Privacy: The Next Frontier”. One of the main points made is that the conversation around student privacy needs to be balanced and include all parties involved in student data. Both Kerry and the Berkman study point to the exclusion of student voices in the debate. We often ignore or dismiss students in conversations and we must continue to advocate for the inclusion of student voices in the debate surrounding their privacy. After all, students are the generators of the data points we are fiercely trying to protect, we owe it to them to include them in the conversation and allow them to teach us what data privacy means to them. Students bring different backgrounds and perspectives we can often oversee. If we bring student voice into the debate and acknowledge learner ownership of data, our conversations will turn to discussing pedagogical issues surrounding student use of data and privacy and we will more readily acknowledge the student experience and the expectations they have in their educational outcomes.

You can read Kerry Gallagher’s post here –

AND Kerry will be a panelist at the 2015 National Student Privacy Symposium in September which promises to be a great event (shameless plug). You can register for the symposium here –

Hope to see you all at the Symposium!


When privacy becomes too private


Is it possible that in our effort to protect our kid’s privacy we make it too private? Let me put it this way, what happens when we make privacy laws so restrictive that someone can go to jail for using their information? Well, it has happened in Louisiana and the law basically states that if you put two pieces of PII (personally identifiable information) where you can identify a student you are in violation of the statute and can get up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine. How will this impact the educational resources available to our children?

Recently, a couple of articles like this one and this one got me thinking about the unintended consequences of restrictive privacy laws.  Because, really, when we talk about student data privacy our first reaction is to advocate for fines and penalties that would deter anyone from abusing student information. However, what happens when a teacher inadvertently shares information for the honor roll, for example. Could that teacher go to jail? Or what about yearbooks? More importantly, what if student information can’t be shared and a college scholarship deserving student can’t get the coveted scholarship because he/she can’t be identified? The key is balance. Balance when we talk about privacy. Balance when we draft legislation to protect student information. Should student information be freely shared? No, absolutely not. But should teachers and schools be allowed to conduct school business and help students based on the information they have? Yes, absolutely.

We still have a long way to go in finding the right balance when drafting legislation to protect student privacy. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question of how restrictive, or not, privacy laws ought to be when it comes to students. But we certainly have to remember that there is value in data. Without good data we cannot help students in a comprehensive way and we certainly cannot address issues of inequity if we cannot share information about the disparities in our educational systems. And we must look at all the different aspects of student data privacy – is a law protecting data when used in apps but not allowing for teachers to share information? Is a different law allowing parents to opt out their kid’s information from valuable aggregate data sets? Parents should certainly be allowed to opt out of directory information but aggregate data is useful when assessing school district performance, for example.

That is what makes the student data privacy debate so interesting. It is complicated at best and messy at its worst. It is complex and multifaceted. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but we need to be aware of all the risks. It’s difficult to come to a consensus on what is the best privacy law. We must recognize that as we legislate what should and should not be allowed, the law must protect students so that we can provide them with the best education possible.

The Louisiana legislature addressed the issue and corrected it. That is a step in the right direction, but as more and more student privacy bills make their way through our system we must be cognizant of the unintended consequences we might bring upon ourselves when trying to work on making privacy more private.



Having the Talk?


The new school year is about to start and so is the season when parents are posting pictures on social media of their adorable moppets going back to school. But in today’s connected world their pictures can circulate the online world to a wide audience instead of going into a hardcopy scrapbook only to be shared with grandma. And what do kids think of their pictures and anecdotes being shared online? What do they think about privacy? Their privacy? What are their ideas of being private in a connected world?

Most of us share information about our kids because we are proud, because we want the world to know that it’s their first day of school or they did something silly that we think is funny. But we need to stop and think what are we teaching our kids about privacy and how do we teach them to be smart about protecting their privacy. Eventually, kids will have a tremendous digital catalog of their information. So I think it’s never too early to have “the privacy talk” with kids. Because preparing the next generation to protect their privacy, means teaching our kids now what they can do to protect themselves tomorrow.

I recently read an article on college campuses scanning students’ eyeballs instead of their student ID’s. And even though the scanning is voluntary, it would behoove us to discuss the implications of such retinal scan. And this is a time when having empowered students to advocate for their privacy is essential. Some students described this program as “creepy and unnecessary” and they have a right to feel that way but it seems that few knew they could decline being scanned or that they should.

So as we take pictures of our adorable little kids, we need to keep in mind how we are preparing them to advocate for their privacy. There are a few resources we can turn to in order to help us have “the talk” with our kids.

Connect Safely has an ever growing collection of clearly written guidebooks that help us discern the different apps, services and different platforms that are popular with kids and teenagers.

iKeepSafe is one of my favorite resources. They have a section dedicated to parents including a “Parent’s guide to Facebook.” Maybe now I can keep up with my kids…..seriously.

The Family Online Safety Institute, commonly referred to as FOSI has a great digital parenting guide, you can search for resources by age group and they have a great “Seven Steps to Good Digital Parenting” guide.

Common Sense Media has information to help kids (and parents) navigate the world of media and technology. When it comes to privacy and internet safety they have tips and tools for all of us. I particularly like the section about good usernames, passwords and what is appropriate to share.

The FTC has a portal on kid’s online safety too! It has great information on how to talk to kids about privacy and how to talk to kids on using social media and the benefits and risks of socializing online and how to make responsible decisions.

We can’t assume that because they let us take their picture and they are our kids we have their implied consent. We need to make sure that this is what they really want to show to the world. And if we can’t, at a minimum we should allow them to decide what to keep and what to exclude from their digital record. Having the privacy talk with our kids will help them protect those experiences that are personal and decide what the world can know about them. We need to all be responsible about their digital catalog. Technology and apps have given us a tremendous insight into our own lives but also to the lives of others and as we collect this data we need to be aware of what it means to create that history online.