The Privacy Technical Assistance Center (“PTAC”), a resource center established by the U.S. Department of Education for information on data privacy, recently released guidance relating to Terms of Service agreements. This new guidance – “Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services: Model Terms of Service” – is intended to further assist schools in implementing the guidance released by PTAC in February 2014, titled “Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services: Requirements and Best Practices”, which guidance was the subject of our March 19, 2014 post.
As PTAC explains, Terms of Service (“TOS”) agreements are used by online educational services and other contactors and vendors that provide services through the internet, to provide a set of terms, including what information the contractor may collect and how the contractor may use the information; in order to use the application or service, the user must click “I agree” to these terms. Many of us click “I agree” without reading the terms; we may believe that these terms are “standard” or just “legalese.” However, when these terms are agreed-to within our schools – by teachers, parents or students – such agreement may unknowingly lead to the release of student information, which may violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).
This new guidance includes helpful information to assist schools in evaluating TOS agreements to determine whether agreement to the TOS would lead to the release of student information. Through this document, PTAC provides a chart of commonly used terms in TOS agreements, explaining TOS provisions that will protect student data, as well as provisions that cannot be agreed-to through a TOS agreement because they will not provide sufficient privacy protection.
In accordance with PTAC guidance, schools should consider reviewing their current student records policies to ensure that student information is protected when students, parents and teachers use educational services that are accessed via the internet. The PTAC website provides helpful resources, including best practices, for school districts in ensuring the safety of student data.