24 Organizations Release Principles for Protecting Student Data Privacy and Equity in the Pandemic

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The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and 23 other education, healthcare, disability rights, data protection, and civil liberties organizations today released Education During a Pandemic: Principles for Student Data Privacy and Equity (available here). The Principles offer 10 guiding recommendations for schools as they rely on new technologies and data to facilitate remote, in-person, or hybrid learning models during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Signatories, including National PTA, National Education Association, Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, initially sought to address challenges posed by school closures in the spring, from how to fairly assess student attendance to closing the digital divide and protecting virtual classrooms from unwelcome interruptions. However, when it became clear the pandemic would also dramatically reshape the 2020-21 school year, the group developed its 10 recommendations to help guide schools as they navigate an unprecedented and evolving situation.

“The pandemic is not over, and the challenges facing K-12 schools aren’t, either. We have a long way to go, and the success of data and technology-driven efforts to educate students during this time depends on trust and ensuring adequate privacy and equity safeguards are in place to protect students and their families,” said Amelia Vance, FPF’s Director of Youth and Education Privacy. “These 10 principles provide an excellent roadmap for schools to build and maintain trust with students and families, and ultimately create a supportive, safe, and inclusive learning environment for all students during this unprecedented time.”

While many schools spent the summer preparing for the return of students in person, a surge of cases in late July and early August forced many schools to alter their plans, sometimes just days before school started, leading to what The New York Times called a “lost summer” of opportunity to fix online learning. School districts are using data to inform their decisions to reopen campuses, and some schools, facing the prospect of a winter surge in cases, are making plans to revert to online learning if needed.  

The principles also raise key considerations for schools to ensure that all students are appropriately provided for during the pandemic. “This is an extraordinarily challenging time and it is more important than ever to ensure that schools guard against unfounded assumptions about students with disabilities that lead to segregation and unequal education,” said Jennifer Mathis, signatory Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law’s Deputy Legal Director and Director of Policy & Legal Advocacy. 


Highlights of The Principles for Student Data Privacy and Equity (available here) include:

 

  • Limiting Data Collection and Sharing. Any COVID-19 related requests for the health information of students, their families, or school staff must be narrowly tailored to the information necessary to determine whether an individual has or does not have COVID-19, or whether a requested reasonable accommodation or modification related to COVID-19 is necessary. Similarly, any information shared with authorities such as state and local public health officials should be limited to a narrowly tailored and documented public health purpose in accordance with all local requirements and limitations.
  • Ensuring the Evidence-Based Use of Technology and Data. Any technology adapted or adopted to assist with online learning or help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as education technology applications, video-conferencing tools, contact tracing applications, thermal imaging, temperature scanning, or health wearable technology should be evidence-based and evaluated for efficacy and in alignment with all applicable laws. 
  • Empowering Students and Families. Students and families should play a role in the return to in-person school decision-making process. They should also be provided with access to the data collected about them during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an opportunity to appeal individualized educational or health decisions that rely on this information.
  • Addressing Trauma. Many students have experienced heightened trauma due to COVID-19 and may face some difficulty reacclimating to the school environment and learning. Students should be provided with trauma support and not penalized based on the assumption that they will engage in disruptive behavior. 

See the full list of 10 principles and signatories here.

 

The release of the Principles for Student Data Privacy and Equity furthers FPF’s commitment to providing new and timely resources for educators navigating the unprecedented student privacy challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Over the summer, FPF launched its “Privacy and Pandemics” professional development series for educators, also accessible through YouTube.  FPF also partnered with the National Center For Learning Disabilities (NCLD) to develop Student Privacy and Special Education: An Educator’s Guide During and After COVID-19 and is maintaining a comprehensive list of student privacy and COVID-19 resources on its student privacy-focused website, Student Privacy Compass.

To learn more about the Future of Privacy Forum, visit www.fpf.org

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About FPF

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a nonprofit organization focused on how emerging technologies affect consumer privacy. FPF’s Youth & Education Privacy program seeks to protect child and student privacy while allowing for data and technology use that can help young people learn, grow, develop, and succeed. FPF works with stakeholders from practitioners to policymakers, providing technical assistance, resources, trend analysis, and training. The Youth & Education Privacy team runs Student Privacy Compass, the one-stop-shop resource site on all things related to student privacy. For more information, visit www.fpf.org