New article on student data privacy by NSBA's Sonja Trainor: available in Kappan Magazine

Kappan Magazine recently published “Student data privacy is cloudy today, clearer tomorrow,” an article by Sonja Trainor, Director of the Council of School Attorneys, National School Boards Association (NSBA).  In the article Trainor delves into the issue of student data privacy and the growing concerns of the education community as schools rely on third party vendors to process and store student information. While there appears to be an emerging consensus on key issues such as the need to limit what vendors can and cannot do with student data, beyond purposes related to learning, what exactly any new law should look like is still somewhat cloudy.

How do we as an education community protect student and family privacy while still using the extraordinary potential of student data to facilitate learning and operate a school district? Should the onus of student data privacy protection rest on the school system?  Or should vendors carry that burden? These are all relevant questions that Trainor poses.

While the Supreme Court has not weighed in on student data privacy specifically, currently there are three federal statutes that apply to student data held by schools and vendors:

• The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits education institutions from denying a parent or eligible student access to education records and from disclosing education records or personally identifiable information contained in them except in specific circumstances.

• The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), which requires schools to make certain instructional materials available for inspection by parents and requiring them to obtain parental consent before conducting student surveys on certain topics.

• The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which regulates those that operate online and collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, requiring that they first obtain parental consent.

The key conversation is whether the current legal framework sufficiently addresses the needs of schools, families, and communities, and if not, how exactly it should be changed. Trainor cites the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) research indicating that state legislatures considered over 100 bills addressing student data privacy in 2014.  Of these, 28 were enacted into law (DQC, 2014). While Trainor sees the issue of student data privacy as cloudy today she does see it clearer tomorrow, where, “schools may eventually enjoy the cover of legal requirement to protect student data privacy in ways that parents and the public now increasingly expect.”  

Read Sonja Trainor’s article which features a list of national sources of information and potential assistance on student data privacy on Kappan Magazine’s webpage. Questions and activities in the current Kappan Professional Development Guide by Lois Brown Easton further explore the article.

Note from Editor: Please know that the views of Sonja Trainor are her own and not NSBA's.


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