40 Organizations Release Privacy Principles for Student Safety
Today, forty education, privacy, disability rights, and civil rights organizations released ten principles for school safety to protect all students’ privacy, dignity, and right to an equal education. These principles do not replace carefully crafted policy and school safety plans. Rather, they serve to guide policymakers and education stakeholders on the role and importance of privacy and equity in safety plans. As principles, they are intended to spark in-depth conversations about how to ensure that school safety measures, whether undertaken by legislatures or individual schools and districts, do not harm the students they are meant to protect.
The principles are intended to spark in-depth conversations about how to ensure that school safety measures, whether undertaken by legislatures or individual schools and districts, do not harm the students they are meant to protect.
Many recent state school safety proposals call for increased surveillance in an attempt to reduce school violence; Florida passed a law in 2018 that required schools to ask students about previous mental health referrals as part of school registration, and the state’s school safety commission proposed that “students with IEPs that involve severe behavioral issues should be referred to and evaluated by the threat assessment team.”
This trend is not unique to Florida. Virginia House Bill 1734, just signed into law by the governor this month, requires the development of a case management tool to centralize the data collected by threat assessment teams in Virginia schools, and does not provide information about who can access that data and how long information will be kept. In New York, Bill No. A04484 would require that schools, in consultation with law enforcement, install “security cameras supported by artificial intelligence” as appropriate, without clarifying what is meant by AI or providing privacy protections for the data to be collected.
Acknowledging this context, the ten principles propose crucial protections for students. Students deserve safety measures that are evidence-based. If these measures include physical or digital monitoring, it must be developed transparently, in consultation with experts and community stakeholders, and must focus on real threats of harm. Students deserve schools where decisions about threats are made by school administrators, counselors, and educators—human beings who can account for students’ particular needs—not by an algorithm. And when students are identified as a threat, they and their families deserve access to the information used to make that decision and must have an opportunity to dispute the decision.
Many organizations have noted that surveillance technologies like social media monitoring and facial recognition can harm students by stifling their creativity, individual growth, and speech, as well as contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Studies show that school surveillance can disproportionately target students with disabilities and students of color. If schools use surveillance tools in classrooms and hallways, students deserve clear policies on which data is collected, who has access to it, how it will be used, and when it will be destroyed. Students deserve assurance that the data will not be misused and that data collection and storage will comply with relevant privacy laws. Students deserve schools that are held accountable, with clear consequences for those who put student privacy at risk by violating data-sharing protocols. And students, educators, and parents all deserve transparency.
Schools have a responsibility to watch over the students in their care, and technology can provide useful tools for effective monitoring. However, when developing school safety plans, schools and policymakers must understand the benefits and risks. These principles are an initial step toward articulating those risks and providing guardrails to mitigate harm.
Resources are available to help schools learn more about how to protect both student safety and privacy. The National Association of School Psychologists has created A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools; the Leadership for Educational Equity has written a white paper on the Emerging Models for Police Presence in Schools; the Center for American Progress has published Smart Investment for Safer Schools; and we have provided guidance on Disclosing Student Information During School Emergencies under FERPA. Still, schools need more resources to create safe environments that also protect their students’ dignity and privacy.
Students, classrooms, schools, districts, and states have unique situations and contexts. One-size-fits-all approaches to safety are therefore not appropriate for educational settings. The principles for school safety do not dictate plans for every school. Instead, representing consensus among a diverse coalition, these principles offer guidelines to inform conversations that must occur when education stakeholders consider school safety programs.
Principles for School Safety, Privacy, & Equity
We believe all students have a right to an education that is safe, addresses their individual needs, and affords them equal opportunities. Efforts to keep schools safe must protect all students’ privacy and dignity, as well as their right to an equal education. Schools must not discriminate against or target students based on their disability or perceived differences.
- School safety measures should focus on prevention, through the creation of a safe, supportive, and inclusive school climate for all students.
- Schools must not discriminate, and school safety measures should not reinforce biases against, or rely on profiling of, students based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other similar characteristics.
- The fact that a student has a disability diagnosis, a history of receiving services for a disability, or an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan that addresses disability-related behaviors does not mean the student is a potential threat to their school community.
- The role and responsibility of law enforcement, if any, within a school needs to be clearly defined by written agreement. Schools should not rely on law enforcement officers to handle school disciplinary matters.
- If school safety measures include monitoring of students (physically and/or digitally), such measures should be evidence-based, subject to ongoing evaluation, and focus on threats of actual harm. They should be transparently developed in consultation with experts and community stakeholders, including students, parents, and educators.
- If security cameras or other types of surveillance are used in schools, school administrators must ensure that the data collected is not misused and ensure compliance with all applicable privacy laws. Clear policies must be established regarding:
- What data is collected, who has access, how the data will be used, and when it will be destroyed.
- How to act upon data collected through the surveillance of students.
- Sharing data, especially if data will be shared with law enforcement or others outside of school, with clear responsibilities and accountability as well as consequences for those who violate these data sharing protocols.
- Transparency to educators, parents, and students.
- Algorithms used for school safety are imperfect, often based on historical and biased data, and can produce false positives and replicate bias. Final decisions about whether a student is categorized as a threat and the actions to take should be made by school administrators, who are able to take into account the student’s particular needs and circumstances, and not by algorithms.
- Comprehensive school-based mental and behavioral health services are critical to ensuring a positive and safe school climate. School safety measures can and should be undertaken to promote, not undermine, students’ mental health and well-being.
- Students who are designated as a threat, and their families, should have an opportunity for recourse, have access to the information used to make the determination, and the opportunity to dispute the determination.
- Surveillance measures should be reviewed regularly to verify that they are fulfilling the goal of protecting student safety and are not producing deleterious unintended effects, and to ensure that unnecessary surveillance is not continued.
AASA: The School Superintendents Association
American Association of People with Disabilities
The Advocacy Institute
The Arc of the United States
Association of Educational Service Agencies
Association of Latino Administrators & Superintendents
Association of School Business Officials International
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
The Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus
Center for Public Representation
Council of Administrators of Special Education
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Disability Independence Group, Inc
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Florida Association of School Psychologists
Florida League of Women Voters
Florida Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
Future of Privacy Forum
Intercultural Development Research Association
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Mental Health America
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
National Center for Youth Law
National Disability Rights Network
National Education Association
National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium
National Rural Education Association
Public Advocacy for Kids
Sandy Hook Promise
School Social Work Association of America
Southern Poverty Law Center