After a five year battle, the Department of Education has ruled that it is a violation of the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to require students and parents to supply personal identifiable information to third-party services as a condition of enrollment. Parents of a charter school student in Pennsylvania complained to the Department of Education in December of 2012 that their child’s rights to privacy had been violated by the school.
The complaint claimed that the school forced parents and students to accept third-party privacy policies as a condition of enrollment. The complaint further explained that the third-party servicers they were forced to accept allowed the student’s and parent’s personal identifiable information to be “used, reproduced, displayed, performed, adapted, modified, distributed, and promoted” in any way they wanted.
In the recent Department of Education decision, FERPA laws make it unlawful to require students and parents to use or agree to the policies of third-party services as a condition of enrollment into a school, educational training service provider, or any other educational institution. The decision of the Department of Education goes a long way in supporting the current efforts to clarify and enforce the mandates of FERPA law.
Now that the Department of Education has officially taken a stand to protect the privacy rights of students, a “FERPA Compliance Crackdown” is expected to ensure the privacy rights of students are being understood and enforced. Critics of the FERPA laws fault legislators for making the mandates of the legislation hard to interpret. Legislators and educational policymakers are working hard to interpret and confirm the stipulations of the law.
As technology is embraced and utilized by public, private, and charter schools nationwide, the need for clear policies to protect student privacy are becoming increasingly important. Students will continuously access websites and online educational programs throughout their educational journey, and parents need to feel that their child is safe from data breeches and hackers.
Educational technology companies have been profiting both financially and in their business development by misusing student data. Now that the Department of Education has taken a stand on the student’s right to privacy, more parents can feel empowered to enforce the rights afforded under the FERPA laws.
Technology has been exploding faster than many can keep up with, so the laws regarding protections for student personal identifiable information must evolve as well. Training of teachers, administrators, and staff of educational institutions is vital to protecting students from tech predators and avoiding potential liability for educational institutions.
Schools and educational institutions must develop clear and specific policies regarding student privacy. Teachers and administrators who are properly trained on how to protect student privacy will be able to empower students to actively protect their online data.
For information on data protection in schools, call the West Chester education lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106, or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our offices are conveniently located in West Chester, Pennsylvania and serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and across the state.