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Toolkit helps educators confront online privacy threats


New privacy toolkit for school leaders seeks to help school systems confront privacy issues when shopping for and using an online service provider

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At its annual conference, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released a detailed guide designed to help school officials follow federal laws on privacy issues– specifically the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The guide, “Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning Toolkit,” was sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and endorsed by The Association of School Business Officials International. Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic also assisted in its development, according to the official CoSN press release.

The toolkit’s purpose is to help school systems appropriately handle issues of privacy when shopping for and using an online service provider.

(Next page: Protecting yourself from online security threats)

“School system leaders need to understand how to comply with FERPA and COPPA given increasing cloud computing and app environments,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN CEO. Because complying with these laws and navigating through privacy matters can become confusing for school leaders, the toolkit says, it is organized in the form of a decision tree.

Beyond this decision tree, or flowchart, there are definitions, both of privacy laws and terms such as “education records” and “school official.” There are also checklists, examples, and key questions that school officials should ask themselves as they read.

“It is also important to remember that protecting the security of student information will likely require your school system to look beyond the letter of the law,” according to the toolkit. “For that reason, this document includes industry suggested practices.”

These include suggested contract terms, security questions to ask online service providers, and negotiation factors to consider concerning metadata and de-identification. The toolkit also contains guidelines on directory information and click-wrap software, as well as links to other resources.

“Because the interpretation of privacy laws is evolving, as well as privacy laws themselves and the technology services they seek to govern, the CoSN Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning Toolkit will also evolve,” the toolkit states. It will be updated throughout the year to include more information in order to stay relevant and remain useful to schools.

Carly Buchanan is an Editorial Intern at eSchool News.

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