School districts around the country are increasingly using cloud-based technologies to store their data. According to a recent study by the Fordham University Law School’s Center on Law and Information, however, many districts have not set clear policies for cloud-based data storage, particularly in regards to student data privacy concerns.
The Fordham study notes serious lapses pertaining to the control of private student information under contracts with private companies storing student data, as well as a failure to inform parents and students as to who has access to student data.
According to study author and academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy, Joel Reidenberg, “districts are not in a position right now to effectively deal with these privacy issues.” Reidenberg added that “many districts don’t have the technical expertise to understand how the flow of data impacts student privacy, and vendors are not explaining it.”
The Fordham study was based on a national sample of public school districts from 54 different urban, suburban and rural systems. The study found that only 25 percent of school districts that utilized cloud-based technology made parents aware of its use. Twenty percent of districts had no policies governing the use of these services, and 25 percent had no policies regarding classroom teacher use of technology related to cloud storage. As a result, the study concluded that privacy implications for district use of cloud services are “poorly understood, non-transparent, and weakly governed.”
The Fordham study suggested that school districts, policymakers and vendors should take several steps to increase privacy protections, including providing parents with sufficient notice of the transfer of student information to cloud-service providers, ensuring that parental consent is sought when required by federal law, setting clearer policies on data governance, and improving contracts between districts and private vendors to provide much more specific information on the disclosure and marketing of student data.