Edtech privacy rules cover more than classroom learning, expert warns

The proliferation of online schooling during the covid-19 crisis has put the spotlight on how edtech is delivered, but schools need to make sure that meals, counseling and other services are also delivered in a privacy-protected manner, a student privacy expert has warned.

Elizabeth Laird, a senior fellow of student privacy at the Center for Democracy & Technology NGO, said most schools already had existing agreements with edtech platforms before coronavirus became a national emergency.

While there have been instances where platforms have allegedly misused student data, Laird said there should be no new legal hurdles when it comes to employing edtech — it’s just a matter of scaling up. 

According to a Gallup poll, the percentage of parents in the US who say their child is receiving school-sponsored online education increased from 72% at the end of March to 83% as of 5 April. Other options include home schooling, private tutoring, and non-sponsored online education.

“The use of the tech and schools working with vendors is not new,” she said. “They’ve been doing this legally for years; this isn’t predicated on meeting new or existing guidance.”

However, schools have been far less prepared when it comes to delivering other services, Laird told GDR.

“Schools also have been using technology to provide access to meals. Even when schools are closed, they still have the responsibility to feed their students. Using applications and systems to make sure families know where they can access food is really important,” she said. “Also, thinking about services like counseling and mental health support to make sure students can use that when you can’t physically be in the same place.”

Laird said some schools are still formulating their responses to these issues.

Others have employed apps that are presumably in compliance with privacy laws. These include CA Meals for Kids in California, and SchoolMealFinder in Louisiana, Texas, Virgina and Tennessee, Laird said.

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