This year when my school reopened in a pandemic, our typical mode of operation was turned upside down. Protocols, protocols, and more protocols allowed us to return to in-person learning. Social distancing, sanitizing, wearing masks, and daily health checks began the new normal.
Each morning before coming on-campus, all staff and students have to complete and submit a health screening via a health app and have their temperatures checked in the carpool line. If students and staff show a green screen and their temperature is in the acceptable range, they can exit the car. If they have a red screen, they have to remain home and await follow-up instructions from our school health coordinator.
As a medical support team member, I review all of our medical data, absentees, quarantined, and exclusion lists daily. If someone is absent and we do not know the reason, we make a courtesy call. Most of our families are very forthcoming and often share more information than needed. I know when someone is traveling, having a mental health day, has allergies, a migraine, menstrual cramps, a toothache, or sore throat. What is surprising to me is how willingly families share this information. As suggested in the New American Foundation report, people seem very trusting of their educational institutions, which I guess is good. Trust is necessary for positive school culture but keeping the trust of students, families, and staff also a great responsibility. This year has opened the door to volumes of information I previously had little need to access. Consequently, it has raised issues of privacy, data access, storage, and propriety. How long will we need to track his data? Will this become the new normal?
Looking through the set of recommendations listed in the report Keeping Student Trust: Student Perceptions of Data Use Within Higher Education and considering the different way we have had to operate this year brings privacy and individual rights and expectations to light. I am not sure whether these recommendations provide a framework for education going forward, but they certainly ignite conversation, consideration, and possibly even future legislation.
I agree that schools should make students and families aware of how their data is being collected, used, and safeguarded concerning student data. As a K-8 school, we do not use geo-tracking data. After the tornado incident a couple of years ago that resulted in a lengthy shelter-in-place after school hours, several companies tried to capitalize on the near-disaster by devising and marketing tracking apps for schools. While geo-tracking apps could help in an emergency, remember Katz-Lacabe’s research and the License Plate Readers? The collection and retention of information was an example of over-reach. The marginal benefit has not yet proven to outweigh the intrusiveness, and I agree that we should limit the use of location data.
I concur with the report’s recommendation to be mindful of data limitations. When I worked in a public school and ran district-wide gifted education reports, I found that our demographic data reporting was not always accurate. The reports did not reflect some students of racial-ethnic diversity. Upon further research, I learned that many were miscoded or left blank, especially students of mixed race.
Financial aid candidates may also be affected by data limitations. Presently I work at a private school and am a member of our financial aid committee. I often see misreported or incomplete data that skews an applicant’s standing. Furthermore, extenuating circumstances such as caring for an elderly family member or a child with special needs, large medical bills, a loss of overtime income, etc., are not always captured in quantitative data. I agree with the report’s recommendation to send financial information to all students and not rely on limited measures to assess a recipient’s likelihood of needing financial aid.
As recommended in the report, limited use of tools such as third-party vendors and proctoring companies is preferable. Particularly in a K-12 environment, families should know how personal data, medical information, and students’ educational profiles are used. To the greatest extent possible, our school tries to keep student information restricted to our systems. Still, some level of disclosure is necessary when using student information systems, educational applications, and health vendors.
Training staff and faculty about the institution’s expectations regarding students’ privacy is essential. We cannot assume that staff knows what they can and cannot do. I agree with the recommendations for outreach to students needing help and what they can and cannot require of students to ensure student privacy. Not all have the benefit of taking graduate law courses such as this one which brings this information to light. As we saw from our text, technology information is continually evolving and is not clear cut; therefore, ongoing training is necessary. During COVID, many of our staff have been anxious when they learned that a student or staff member was quarantined. They wanted to know names and details that are not appropriate to share. We endeavored to be transparent in our process while maintaining individuals’ privacy, but staff often did not understand why we could not share all the information with them. As an administrator, I spend many, many hours in legal seminars and reviewing policies. Our teachers do not. It is our responsibility to train them in practice and written policy to know how to respond appropriately.
Moving down the list, messaging and communication for outreach seems like a personal preference and maybe more relevant to students in higher education than K-12. It is advisable, however, regardless of the audience, to test the message ahead of time.
Even though this report provided feedback from a small sampling size, the recommendations on student opinions are comprehensive and provide food for thought. Some are not as relevant for K-12 but are nonetheless thoughtful. One missing piece I see for K-12 is how to guarantee student privacy and protection with student accounts and data when accessed outside of school networks, such as remote learning. We found that breaches occurred in student accounts when students access them from home. Parents did not realize their vulnerabilities or lack of filters. How can we further educate parents and students on how their data may be used, accessed, or tracked and where their responsibility lies.