The U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) has recently published a document with guidance for school districts concerning communicating with parents concerning the collection, retention and use of student data, entitled “Transparency Best Practices for School Districts.” This document can be found on the DOE’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (“PTAC”), which is available at http://ptac.ed.gov.
The DOE recommendations can be divided into three main categories: (1) what information to communicate to parents; (2) how to convey that information; and (3) how to respond to parent inquiries. Concerning what information to convey to parents, in addition to the information required to be given to parents by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (“PPRA”), the guidelines recommend that districts publish a data inventory listing all types of information collected from or about students, accompanied by an explanation as to why this information is being collected. In addition, it is recommended that the district’s data protection policies be shared with parents. Concerning student data and third parties, the guidelines recommend that contracts with online services be posted online, along with a listing of online educational services approved for use in the classroom.
The DOE best practices suggest clear and consistent communication with parents, utilizing a “user-friendly” website as part of a multi-layered approach to communicating with parents. When responding to parental inquiries concerning the use and collection of student data, it is recommended that parents be provided with multiple ways to reach staff for questions. Although the guidelines do not address who is to respond to inquiries, school districts should clearly identify those individuals in the district who are both knowledgeable and authorized to speak on behalf of the district.
In reviewing the DOE recommendations, it is evident that in order for school districts to effectively communicate with parents concerning student data practices, districts first need to be aware of its current practices. For example, many districts do not have a practice of collecting contracts with online services, are not aware of all educational apps being utilized in district classrooms, and have no set procedure for the approval of the use of educational apps. The DOE guidelines are a useful reminder that districts should make the coordination and monitoring of student data collection practices a priority.