Now that school is back in session and fall is in full swing, it’s time to start thinking about the importance of protecting students’ data. As many schools are becoming more digitized in their approach to education, it should follow naturally that we’re thinking about how to protect student’s information outside of the home, especially in digital spaces. In fact, in 2017, over a million children were victims of identity theft, with hackers increasingly targeting places that store children’s data, such as schools.
There are laws at the state and federal level that aim to protect educational data, which is defined in Minnesota Statutes as “any data on an individual maintained by a public educational agency or institution which relates to a student.” The major law in place to protect educational data is known as FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Although there are laws in place, there may be situations where laws may not apply. There is also the possibility that other precautions should be considered to protect educational data, stemming into areas outside of the school.
Here are some steps to consider when looking at protecting educational data:
Step one: Consider communication strategies
Although, many schools are moving to more digitized methods of information storage and communication, these methods should be given a risk assessment, whether through fax machines, or file storage systems like Dropbox or Google Suite (G-Suite). The more digital avenues you are utilizing, the more you should consider how to manage your educational data and what protocols you have in place. These may also need to include or demonstrate the ability to readily access said data when it is requested by authorized parties (students, applicable school staff, etc.).
Step two: Make securing data a focal point
Are your data concerns part of regular school meetings and other forums where they might need to be discussed? Keeping your data concerns and practices at the forefront of discussions can often help you and your staff stay aware of what you can do to help educational data remain safe. Regular meetings might generate ways to inform others how they can protect educational data. It may also create a platform for discussing how to improve data protection strategies in the school, such as through added encryption in technology or by updating and upgrading equipment.
Step three: Other applications
Occasionally, students will request the use of new apps to use in the classroom or they may use their login information to create accounts on other apps (if you’re providing Gmail accounts to each student, for example). While you may consider using new apps, it would be a good idea to check what the school and district recommended for use in the classroom. This way, there is a better chance the apps have already been vetted and tested for third party legality. Randomly incorporating new applications might pose a risk for educational data, making it in your best interest to cross-check what the school(s) say about application usage in the classroom.
For students that use school logins on other apps, encourage conversations between kids and parents or other school staff about the need to protect their personal information, even if it’s just their email and/or name. As mentioned above, identity theft among children is just one example of threats you or your students might face in a digital space if information isn’t properly protected.
Step four: Destroy unnecessary data
Digital threats are not the only kind of risks to your educational data. A few loose papers can be all it takes for identity thieves to commit fraudulent acts. Shredding and securely destroying confidential documents are great solutions to filling gaps in education data privacy. Reserving a time to destroy and shred these items at the end of every quarter or trimester is one way both the school and the students can securely dispose of confidential information, as long the process is overseen and regulated properly.
Looking for an easy and convenient way to shred unneeded documents at your school? Check out Shred Right’s fundraising initiative, #ShredRight4Good. Shred Right also offers a range of IT destruction services to aid in the destruction of digital information stored on old hard drives, disks and more. Shred Right can help your school stay compliant while protecting educational data. Contact us and let us know how we can help your local school today.