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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FERPA & Student Data Privacy - Let the privacy tidal wave begin


Recently, I had an educator ask me if students collaborating together on an assignment, through a collaborative technology such as Google Docs, could be a violation of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, which most of us know as FERPA. Their concern was that as students work together, one student’s parent would be able to see the work done by the student their child was collaborating with on the assignment. This has never occurred to me as a concern, but it certainly begged investigation. After reviewing many websites, I did not find anything that would suggest a homework assignment in progress would at all be considered an educational record (and therefore protected by FERPA), as it is not part of a child’s permanent record at that point, nor is it in possession of the school at that point. In fact I did not find anything definitive that would suggest student work is FERPA protected at all. Graded work MAY be, as an individual grade itself might be part of the student record. But from the United States Supreme Court “Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo,” it is clear that an ungraded assignment is not an educational record, and therefore not subject to FERPA. 

The above is my interpretation and not a legal opinion, but it demonstrates how delicate the topic of student privacy is becoming. Increasingly, student data and privacy are being looked at with a laser focus by places like the State of California, President Obama, and organizations like Common Sense Media and CoSN. Expect to hear many more discussions and questions about what student data is shareable to further a student’s education and what data must be protected by schools and third parties.