The prospects for Congressional action on student data privacy legislation got a boost in late July when the bipartisan leaders of a key House subcommittee introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157). The measure updates the definition of an educational record to ensure student information connected to classroom technology is protected.
“Technology plays an essential role in educating our nation’s children, enhancing learning, and empowering educators with better information to meet the individual needs of their students,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, a cosponsor of the bill and the ranking member of the Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee. “While the use of technology in education continues to advance, laws governing the management of student records – often electronic – have not.”
The legislation amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which requires schools to comply with various privacy protections and ensure parents are able to access, inspect, and request corrections to their children’s education records. The law, which was enacted more than 40 years ago and was last updated in 2011, allows teachers and other school officials to access students’ education records without safeguards over personal information.
“Mobile applications, cloud computing, and other innovative tools play an increasingly important role in a student’s education,” said Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the subcommittee and sponsor of the bill. “Unfortunately, legal safeguards over student privacy have not kept pace with the rapid technological changes taking place in America’s classrooms.”
In 2011, the Department of Education issued a controversial new regulation that, among other things, permits schools to disclose personally identifiable information to third parties. The rule was designed to allow for data sharing related to audits or evaluations of federal- or state-supported education programs. But privacy advocates raised concerns that the rule undermined student privacy and parental consent.
To address the various privacy concerns of current law and 2011 regulation, the Student Privacy Protection Act prohibits schools and technology companies from using a student’s education record to market products or services to that student. It reaffirms a parent’s right to access his or her child’s education record and opt out of sharing the student’s directory information. It increases security requirements for storing and gaining access to student education records.
In addition, the measure increases transparency about what student information schools determine can be used, collected, and shared for educational purposes. It also provides schools with additional guidance, support, and oversight regarding privacy protections, and requires schools to designate a privacy official to oversee the use of student information.
The legislation is one of many student data privacy bills that have been introduced this year, but it is the most likely version to advance because it has the bipartisan support of the key leaders of the committee and subcommittee of jurisdiction. The House Education and the Workforce Committee plans to consider the legislation after Congress returns from a five-week recess in September.