School districts across the country are increasingly using computer software, mobile apps and other web-based tools to foster and enhance the learning process. The widespread adoption and use of online technologies have the potential to positively transform the educational process, but they also have called attention to possible risks. In particular, the information sharing, web-hosting and telecommunication innovations that come with these new education technologies raise questions about how best to protect student privacy during their use.

In response to these challenges, a number of different resources have surfaced that share requirements, best practices and tools for districts to employ and consider when evaluating the use of online educational services. These resources include the following:

  • Privacy Technology Assistance Center (PTAC) at the U.S. Department of Education has issued the guidance document Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services, which answers several questions related to student privacy and the use of educational technology in the classroom.  A webinar about the subject can be viewed here.
  • Also from PTAC, the Model Terms of Service checklist provides a framework for evaluating online educational tools’ Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Agreements. This resource is intended to assist users in understanding how a given online service or app will collect, use and/or transmit user information so that a school or school district can then decide whether or not to sign up.  A webinar on the subject can be viewed here.
  • The Cloud Computing FAQ was designed by PTAC to assist educational agencies and institutions that are considering using cloud computing solutions for education data.
  • Check the Privacy, from a coalition of K-12 privacy leaders, is a new national initiative designed to provide a one-stop shop for educators searching for safe, secure tools to use with their students. Prior to the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Check the Privacy will contain a searchable library of more than 7,000 edtech products, with information about their privacy protections, compliance with major student data privacy legislation, and endorsements by major organizations and privacy projects.
  • States like California and Connecticut have developed their own hubs where educators can find software that has been vetted for compliance with privacy rules. The nonprofit organization Common Sense also maintains a database of education apps with information about their privacy practices.

If you have general questions about protecting student privacy while using online educational services and other edtech products, please contact the OSBA Division of Legal Services.

Posted by Sara C. Clark on 5/3/2019