Protecting Student Data: The Educator’s Guide to Data Privacy

Protecting Student Data The Educator’s Guide to Data Privacy

When EU General Data Protection Regulation was enforced more than three years ago, companies and organizations had to stop, rewind, modify and adjust the way they processed personal data in the past.

However, GDPR does not only apply to businesses. It also applies to public institutions, including schools, kindergartens, universities, even on the international level.

Although GDPR is technically a European regulation, due to its extraterritorial effect, educational institutions outside the EU may also be obligated to comply if they are processing personal data of EU students, which automatically applies to foreign exchange students programs.

So what are your obligations when it comes to protecting students’ data privacy? In this guide, we will take you through the essentials regarding compliance and data protection.

So what does this mean for Educators?

Like any other public institution, schools are obligated to appoint a Data Protection Officer responsible for assuring compliance with the GDPR.

DPO is in charge of navigating everyone towards compliance and should revise the record-keeping and policies and procedures around data collection.

This includes restricting access to data to essential staff only, defining who are third parties that schools share data with, and choosing a proper lawful basis.

However, DPO will have another important role. DPO will also be an educator assigned to train all school staff about students’ rights, their privacy, and security safeguards.

If DPO fails to convey the importance of data protection, data protection policies and procedures may only remain a dead letter.

The point is that educators will have to take their part and do their work for the compliance program to be successful, raising awareness and implementing changes in a way things have been done in the past.

Why Does Student Data Privacy Matter To Educators?

Nowadays, technology has shaped the landscapes of communication, entertainment, and other aspects of our lives. Education is no stranger to this phenomenon.

With people storing copious amounts of data into technology tools and apps, students should learn how to protect their personal data and their privacy online.

It is important to educate students to keep their data safe by imploring them not to share any information with others like passwords, social security numbers, etc.

Let them know how sensitive such data is and the consequences of accidentally sharing their information with others.

Also, building an open and honest relationship with parents or guardians can make your job a lot easier. You should be transparent, inform them about who processes their children’s data and their own, and explain why and how.

Disclosing data about students or parents should be avoided whenever possible. For example, if an Educator is communicating with parents via email, avoid reply all, use BCC, and avoid publicly disclosing grades or any other information about students (especially information that could reveal student’s medical history, like special dietary restrictions).

What about GDPR fines?

Did we also mention steep fines?  That too, schools can be fined. The Bocconi University in Italy was recently fined €200,000 for non-compliance with the GDPR.

Although some countries do not issue fines to public institutions, schools and universities are no strangers to paying for their omissions, and you want to avoid that at any cost.

What Is Considered Student Personal Data?

Students personal data would be any type of data that relates to or can be related to that student directly or indirectly and involves:

  • Full name
  • Names of parents or guardians
  • Academics (i.e., grades, attendance, etc.)
  • Disciplinary records
  • Lunch program eligibility and
  • Anything else about the student that is collected, recorded and stored by your school’s or district’s database

Some personal data is considered sensitive personal data and their processing is allowed only under certain circumstances. For instance, if you are obligated by law or want to protect a student’s interest. Sensitive data about students would be:

  • Data related to racial or ethnic origin,
  • Political opinions,
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs,
  • Genetic data,
  • Biometric data
  • Medical history
  • Data concerning an individual’s sex life or sexual orientation

These types of data can come from any avenue, as your students attend your school or district. Therefore, it’s important to keep track of where your student data is being collected and stored. Look to the following technologies, and ensure that student data is safeguarded from data theft and infringement:

  • Online bulletin boards
  • Email accounts
  • Apps/Tools, etc.

Pay attention to these practices

As an educational institution, you will be obligated to follow certain rules and make sure your processing is based on a legal ground.

Although DPO should conduct an audit to get a complete overview of a situation, DPO is not all-seeing or almighty.

Everyone from school staff should carefully review their everyday operations to see if there is anything that might not be completely compliant. Make sure you follow:

  • Lawful data processing- There are six lawful bases for processing personal data. If you want to collect and process students’ data, you will have to define which legal grounds you will rely on. In most cases, schools will rely on the performance of a task in the public interest. However, if you want to use this data for different purposes, you will probably have to rely on consent, either from a parent or student (13 and up).
  • Transparency principle– building an open relationship with parents can be crucial. Make sure you provide information about which data you collect about them and their children, why you are processing it, how, if there are any third parties with whom you share that data, like an online learning platform or app. Disclose this on your website under privacy policy or via the school’s newsletter
  • Security measures- GDPR requires schools to implement appropriate safeguards in order to prevent data leakage or data breaches. Your DPO will have to conduct training for all personnel in order to make sure everyone is aware of security risks. Implement encryption, strong passwords and provide more information about cyber threats like phishing or social engineering.

Avoiding Privacy Issues On Educational Apps/Tools

Believe it or not, privacy issues can happen no matter what Internet-based application or tool you’ll use. In fact, these types of issues can show up in education apps and tools.

That’s why it’s important to only use apps and tools that have been vetted and approved by your school or district. Though, having the app or tool vetted and approved by the Department of Education is a definite plus.

If an app or tool that you want to use isn’t approved yet, send your school administration a request to vet it before you use it for your class. Just keep in mind: When recommending an app or tool, you’ll need to make sure that it has the necessary privacy safeguards so that student data is protected.

Enhancing Student Data Security

Finally, as you work to secure student data, it’s important to be vigilant when safeguarding such data. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips on better securing student data:

  • Update all of your apps and software regularly. The last thing you want is to be stuck with outdated versions of apps and software. While using outdated apps and software can be harmless at first, they can actually be detrimental to your lesson or project proceedings. Outdated versions are more vulnerable to things like crashes, hackings, and other forms of cybercriminal activity. If you’re not careful and don’t update often, you’ll risk exposing student data to unauthorized parties.
  • Encrypt student data. Since student data is considered sensitive data, it’s important to use the latest encryption technology, so that only authorized users and parties can have access to sensitive student data. Such helpful tech includes the following:
    • SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol)
    • SSH (Secure Shell) and
    • SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)
  • Educate, educate, educate. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to educate your students about the dangers of sensitive data being compromised online and through apps. Teach them to not share personal data like passwords with anyone else. Also, show them the importance of creating strong passwords for their accounts. Student knowledge is priceless when it comes to protecting personal data.

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s important to safeguard student data, as technology continues to evolve and seep into the educational system.

While it’s beneficial for schools and districts to use as much as technology as they can to better educate students, it’s also beneficial to ensure that student data is safe from the hands of would-be cybercriminals.

Additionally, it is also important for educational facilities to process students’ personal data in a compliant manner with respect to their rights and transparency principle.

As you refer to this guide, you’ll understand the importance of safeguarding student data, and ensure that all educators are educated in doing so. Remember: Students have a right to privacy, especially when it comes to their personal information. So, let’s try to keep it that way for many years to come.

Author

Christina Lee is a writer and editor at Essay editing and State of writing. She is also a contributing writer for Essay writer. As a project manager, she has overseen various projects in many companies nationwide. As a content writer, she writes articles about marketing trends and new technologies.

 

Get your free Data Privacy Manager trial

Try Data Privacy Manager and experience how you can simplify managing records of processing activities, third-parties, or data subject requests!

Scroll to Top