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9 tips for a robust discussion on student data privacy

By Team ISTE 4/28/2015 Technology infrastructure

Barack and Michelle Obama are talking about it; so are Bill and Melinda Gates, dozens of state legislatures, the Parent Teacher Association and your distant cousins in Great Britain.

The hot topic is student data privacy and educators globally are encouraged to have robust discussions with parents and students.  

The conversation may not be as easy as it seems. Speakers at educator conferences and workshops are tossing around terms like FERPA, COPPA, PPRA, SOPIPA and IDEA. Pop quiz: Can you define those acronyms?

Jim Siegel has a lot of experience with this topic from his years working in Silicon Valley and through his current position as technology architect in the Department of Information Technology for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Siegel's an advocate for a clear give-and-take among educators, students and parents. He encourages all educators to be well prepared for questions and to lean in to help everyone learn.

Here are nine tips for talking about student data privacy in a way parents can understand:

Be transparent. Take the initiative to provide information students and parents need about safety and security. Take away the mysteries and misunderstandings about what is going in a student's "permanent file." Provide all the school policies, rules and guidelines for how they collect, use, protect and share data.

Know your roles. It's everyone's job to provide security and safety but the roles of districts, principals and classroom teachers are different. Work within the organization to define roles. Then study up and become comfortable with your place and what you are responsible for sharing.

Name a point person. There should be one person and place in the organization responsible for data privacy answers. In some districts, there is a designated privacy officer. There should always be at least one highly trained person parents and students can contact with their questions and concerns.

Ask parents’  permission. Make information available on the web and on paper about the online tools being used and links to their privacy policies. Then ask them to sign off on the tools. If they have safety concerns, give options.

Ask for parents’ input. If parents discover internet tools that are helpful, provide a form where parents can submit their ideas so a district committee can vet the tools.

Tout your training. Offer training so all stakeholders can be well informed. Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, trains and presents nationwide, including at the recent SXSW exposition in Austin, Texas. A mother of six children, she can relate to parents, so her website offers a good education for educators and parents, including these:

Don't waste time. Students, families and educators should have timely access to information collected about the student whenever they ask for it. Information delays discourage inquiries.

Have a plan in case of mistakes. Inform parents how they will be notified if there is any misuse or breach of information and available remedies.

Avoid acronyms and edu-speak. Educators may be familiar with the technical terms surrounding data privacy, but don’t overuse them with a general audience without explanations. You'll know when you're overdoing it when people respond with another acronym, MEGO (my eyes glaze over).

Here’s the answer sheet to the acronym pop quiz above.

FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

COPPA: Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

SOPIPA: Student Online Personal Information Protection Act

PPRA: Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment

Learn more about safeguarding student data in the April 2015 issue of entrsekt. For a deeper dive into the intricacies of student data privacy, read Securing the Connected Classroom by Abbie H. Brown and Tim D. Green.

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