Magazine article Technology & Learning

Safety First

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Safety First

Article excerpt

Whether virtual or physical, the safety of students is every educators first priority. Here 's how schools can protect them.


"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Benjamin Franklin was addressing fire safety-when he coined this familiar axiom, but the analogy to Internet safety isn't a bad one. Just as we wouldn't let a live spark go untended, so we need to take sensible steps to guard sensitive information--our own and our students'--online.

A recent public service announcement from the FBI encourages public awareness of cyber threat concerns related to K-12 students. "Malicious use of sensitive data could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children," the FBI release states. "Therefore, the FBI is providing awareness to schools and parents of the important role cybersecurity plays in the securing of student information and devices." Heightened awareness, paired with a wealth of publicly available resources to help schools and districts address these concerns, is good news for educators, parents, and students.

Unlike other industries, which have the means to invest in sophisticated programs to protect against cyber threats, the budget constraints most districts face mean that there are fewer resources for IT security. While this lack of funding is a significant concern, there's a lot that schools working with limited resources can be doing to help prevent threats from becoming a reality.

The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) notes, for example, that most student data disclosures are caused by human error--like clicking a false attachment in an email or using a weak password. Few districts have the funding or resources to train staff to protect student data, but there are free online materials districts can use to help equip everyone to avoid common--and sometimes disastrous--mistakes.

The FPF's education privacy resource site, FERPAI Sherpa (, is a goldmine of resources and information. Parents, educators, and students can find links to over450 resources, including models from districts, training materials, and information on student privacy from experts at the Department of Education's Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), CoSN, the Council of School Attorneys (COSA), the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC), and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA).

Invaluable free resources on ferpasherpa. org include:

* "The Educator's Guide to Student Data Privacy"--a concise and comprehensive introduction that explains: why it's important that teachers understand and care about student data privacy; what constitutes student data; the relevant state and federal laws; and more

* Tips on best privacy practices for using apps in the classroom, including a link to a short YouTube video called "Ask Before You App" produced by the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) and Common Sense Education

* Links to webinars and other training materials from the model Student Data Privacy program run by the Utah State Board of Education

* A model student data pol icy (from Howard County Public Schools in Maryland)

* Model contracts, such as the California Student Data Privacy Agreement, that the SDPC urges companies to sign

* Lists of the steps recommended by the Department of Homeland Security and of resources available from the FTC

* Guides for parents and educators, created with ConnectSafely and the National PTA, on student data privacy issues

* Resources to help parents talk with their children about being safe online

* Up-to-date and user-friendly information on federal and new state laws, compliance, and helpful initiatives from edtech companies.

As "The Educator's Guide to Student Data Privacy" reminds us, "as we adopt new technologies, we must think about how they affect the safety, security, and privacy of all stakeholders--especially our students. …

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