During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of students are making the difficult transition to distant learning—and parents and teachers are making the transition with them. This sudden switch to distant learning poses unique questions about child data privacy and how to protect students’ personal information. Furthermore, many parents and educators may not even be aware these privacy concerns exist.
Since 2018, the FBI has warned that pre-university (K-12) students using education technologies face a number of cyber security and privacy threats. Concerns include the exposure of personally identifiable information, biometric data, academic information, geolocation, web browser history, IP addresses, and classroom activities, as well as the potential disclosure of students’ behavioral, disciplinary and medical information.
In addition to student data privacy concerns, video conferencing tools can pose unique privacy challenges. For example, the video conferencing platform Zoom, which became a popular online learning tool among schools and businesses in the wake of closures, has come under increasing attack from “zoombombers” in recent weeks. This occurs when online trolls interrupt classrooms and meetings with offensive content through the platform’s screen sharing feature.
To avoid potential risks, both educators and parents can familiarize themselves with privacy issues pertaining to student data and safety. They can also investigate the security features of various online learning platforms before permitting students to use them.
How Does the Law Affect Student Privacy?
Many online learning platforms collect students’ personal data. As more and more students turn to these platforms to complete their coursework, educators and parents should familiarize themselves with how the law protects student data. According to the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools must have written permission from parents or “eligible students” over the age of 18 to release a student’s education records. This law also pertains to the release of students’ personal data. However, FERPA maintains certain exceptions that allow schools to share data without parental consent in some cases provided there are Data Privacy Agreements in place with the vendor detailing the use of the data.
Vendors that provide educational resources to students in the U.S. under the age of 13, as well as those that knowingly collect data on kids under the age of 13, are required to follow the Children’s Online Privacy & Protection Act (COPPA).
To help educators and parents navigate these various requirements, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a webinar “FERPA and Virtual Learning During Covid-19” with free slides available for download.
Which Online Learning Platforms Provide the Best Security?
Hackers aren’t the only concern for school districts transitioning to online learning. Districts should also focus on how to prevent student data from being shared or stolen via video conferencing platforms. The Department of Education’s “FERPA and Virtual Learning During Covid-19” webinar (previously mentioned above), can help answer questions educators may have about how to protect student data on these platforms. It addresses what student data can be disclosed in online classrooms, whether lecture recordings will be kept as virtual records as well as how they’ll be shared, and other discussion points.
According to the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC), the most important step to protecting student privacy is good communication between parents and educators.
“The key to address many of the concerns is ongoing and clear communications between parents/educators and school CIO/CTOs in what applications and services are safe for learners – and which need to become more aware of the importance of student data privacy,” the SDPC stated in a recent blog post.
Free Webinar – IEEE Virtual Tech Talk: Student and Child Data Privacy
Date: 15 April 2020
Time: 9am ET
To keep children and their families safe from COVID-19, schools closed their doors, emptied their classrooms, and connected with students online.
Join us for this virtual panel to learn what you can do to support safe, healthy, and effective online interactions. Know the significant risks and learn what we can do to mitigate them. With patience and care we can create positive and productive home environments.
Andrade, David. (8 April 2020). How to Address Data Privacy During Remote Learning. EdTech.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (“COPPA”). Federal Trade Commission.
Privacy and Data Sharing. Protecting Student Privacy. U.S. Department of Education.
(March 2020). FERPA and Virtual Learning during COVID-19. Protecting Student Privacy. U.S. Department of Education.
(31 March 2020). Student Privacy And Covid-19. The Student Data Privacy Consortium.
Strauss, Valerie. (20 March 2020). As schooling rapidly moves online across the country, concerns rise about student data privacy. The Washington Post.
Zimmerman, Eli. (13 February 2020). Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams for Education: Find the Blended Learning Tool that Works Best. EdTech.