EducationDive March 24, 2020 by Shawna De La Rosa
Organizations team up to advise administrators on privacy rights in coronavirus era
- The Future of Privacy Forum and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, are teaming up to help K-12 and higher education administrators protect student privacy during coronavirus school shutdowns. A white paper from the two organizations highlights the health or safety emergency exceptions under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that allow schools to share students’ personally identifiable information with relevant officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The white paper also explains how to share information on COVID-19 cases with the community without revealing too many identifiable details. For example, don’t say that a 6th-grade basketball player tested positive if that is the only 6th-grader on the team. However, its appropriate to share that a member of that team did test positive, disclosing the minimum amount of information while still warning the community.
- Additionally, the white paper states a school can reach out to a student’s health care provider if they suspect a student has COVID-19 and can’t get ahold of the parents. However, student education records remain private during the health crisis.
The U.S. Department of Education has also issued guidance on student privacy regarding the requirements of FERPA as it pertains to COVID-19, advising administrators to work with public health officials to manage COVID-19 issues but protect students’ education records.
To ensure students with disabilities continue to receive services guaranteed by IDEA and Section 504, the department published a document answering questions about when and how students will continue to receive instruction and whether to use online or virtual instruction.
The U.S. Department of Education will also consider waiving state assessment requirements. On March 21, the department approved waivers requested by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to suspend assessments and Oklahoma School Report Cards for the 2019-20 school year. Oklahoma will not give assessments in English language arts, math or science for grades 3-8 or to high school juniors. Currently, Oklahoma schools are set to open April 6, but the state board of education will hold a meeting March 25 to determine whether to delay the reopening.
As previously stated, students’ educational privacy is still protected during the coronavirus pandemic. As many districts scramble to put together online learning platforms for their now-remote students, FERPA and other privacy laws around student’s education information still apply. FERPA forbids “improper disclosure” of personally identifiable information from student records to third parties. And while schools are not prohibited from sharing information with vendors, they may be held responsible if that data is used for other purposes or ends up in the hands of identity thieves.