In the span of a few short years, technology has transformed the classroom. Smartphones, digital tablets and online educational apps are replacing traditional books, paper worksheets and chalkboards. These technologies offer new and exciting opportunities for students, including the promise of personalized education. The spread of education technology may be particularly beneficial for students with learning and attention issues because technology offers support and access that haven’t always been available to all students.
Privacy Concerns and the Law
But as the use of technology in the classroom becomes more widespread, so do concerns about student privacy. And as digital devices capture data about students, parents are starting to ask how that data will be used. Here are some of the questions we’ve heard:
- “Is my child being tracked and monitored without my knowledge?”
- “Can information be gathered and used to target marketing and advertising at my family?”
- “Will data collected about my child be used to stigmatize them at school and later in life?”
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a 40 year old law that protects students’ personally identifiable information in all education records. The law is clear that your child’s personally identifiable information is protected. Except under a few limited circumstances, your child’s information can’t be disclosed without your consent. But FERPA has become outdated in some ways. The law has not kept up with advances in technology and the new types of data that can be collected. So, for example, even though personally identifiable information is protected by FERPA, other data might not be. This “other data” might include things like the amount of time a student takes to complete an online assignment. It might include a student’s accuracy on an online quiz. While it’s hard to say just how this information could be harmful, parents have been concerned that it could be linked to a student and possibly affect their chances of success when applying for college or jobs.
New Student Privacy Guidelines
The good news is that student privacy has become a priority for the U.S. Department of Education. The Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center recently released new guidelines for schools and districts to refer to when using online educational services. This is critical because until laws like FERPA catch up with technology, schools and districts need to take the lead and look at each online education service their school uses.
The new guidelines are not binding but they offer best practices for schools to follow in handling student information. The guidelines recommend that schools evaluate each online source used in the classroom on a case-by-case basis to make sure student data is always protected. School districts should also develop a technology plan that will explain how student data is shared. Schools are advised to ask parents for feedback about the technology plan before it is implemented.
We urge parents like you to get involved as schools create technology plans. It’s important to be vocal about your privacy concerns. You have the right to know what technology is being used and how schools will protect your student’s information. If you don’t know where to start, here are some questions you can ask your school:
- “Do you have a district level policy that addresses student data not protected by FERPA? If not, do you plan to create one and include parents in the process?”
- “What online education services is the school currently using? How do I find out whether or not my child’s private data is protected on these sites?”
- “Have you seen the new guidelines released by the Department of Education on student privacy?”
Kaitlyn Richardson is the Public Policy and School Transformation Assistant based out of the NCLD Washington, D.C. office. With a background in teaching and current work in the policy arena, Kate is passionate about advocating for high standards for all students with learning and attention issues.