A Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy
We live in an increasingly connected world where information flows between us and the organizations and companies we deal with every day. Historically that information was stored in filing cabinets but, today, most of it is stored on computers—sometimes accessible via the Internet.
Schools have always held a wide range of data about our children and families: Name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs and the like are all necessary for basic administration and instruction. Teachers and school officials use this information for lots of reasons, including to assess how well students at a school are progressing, how effective teachers are at teaching, and how well your school performs compared to other schools. State departments of education collect data that is then aggregated (summarized) to help guide policy decisions and plan budgets.
Schools are also increasingly storing electronic data associated with “connected learning,” where online resources are used for instruction and evaluation. Online tools give students access to vast libraries of resources and allow them to collaborate with classmates or even peers around the world. Some of these online tools also give teachers and parents the ability to access and evaluate student work.
Whether information is on paper or online, the basic privacy rights for students and parents remain the same. This guide will help you understand the laws that protect student data, as well as students’ and parents’ rights under the laws.
Closing thoughts for parents
While laws apply to what schools and third parties can disclose about students, they do not apply to what students or their parents might disclose publicly, which means you and your child also have a responsibility to protect your child’s privacy. What you or your child posts on social media, for example, could be used by others, including private companies and law enforcement in some cases, and is not protected by FERPA or any other federal law. Be certain you understand and use the privacy tools on any website or app that you or they use for school or at home to limit who can see your information (that includes having strong, secure and unique passwords; for tips, visit ConnectSafely.org/passwords), and be sure to never say anything online that you wouldn’t want shared with others, including law enforcement, college recruiters and current or future employers.
National PTA: Parent Guides
ConnectSafely: Easy to use parent guides for many programs popular with children and teens
The Future of Privacy Forum: Extensive detail on student privacy laws, as well as other resources for parents
The FTC: children’s privacy resources
Fordham University School of Law: FERPA Infographic for parents
The National PTA comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of parent involvement in schools. The PTA is nonprofit association that prides itself on being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education.
Future of Privacy Forum is a non-profit think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices, with an advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups.
ConnectSafely is a nonprofit organization for parents, teens, educators, advocates – everyone engaged in and interested in the impact of social media and mobile technology and the promotion of the safe, effective use of connected technology.
Completed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.