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Edtech companies have been benefiting unfairly from student data. Student data was not secure and could be used inappropriately and illegally.

It took outraged parents and the U.S. Dept. of Education five years, but the DOE ruled on the side of families and protecting youth. A new FERPA judgment clarifies children’s digital data will be better protected and schools held accountable.

Recent news has alerted us to the vulnerability of online data. Tech companies’ practices and profits are in question. Clearly, education is enhanced by today’s technology. The downside comes when a student's personally identifiable information is put at risk.

What happened? Parents were required to sign a waiver allowing a child’s PII to be shared in a manner that didn’t protect his or her data. Parents dug in because FERPA standards were being ignored.

As students enrolled at Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania, the mandatory form allowed misuse in the sharing of private data. The school and its affiliates had “the right to use, reproduce, display, perform, adapt, modify, distribute, have distributed and promote (information put into the platform) in any form, anywhere and for any purpose.”

Edtech companies were benefiting unfairly. Student data was not secure and could be used inappropriately and illegally. This DOE judgment encourages parents and privacy advocates that there will be better enforcement of FERPA.

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Parents and schools can close the loops whereby edtech companies can misuse children’s data. Some essential steps are educators receiving privacy training and edtech products being assessed to certify they are compliant with requirements.

Utah State Board of Education’s chief privacy officer Dr. Whitney Phillips is taking action to ensure training and support are in place for schools. Creating privacy policies and procedures are vital. These steps help K-12 students thrive in the electronic world.

Jacalyn S. Leavitt is the chair of Internet Keep Safe Coalition and former Utah State first lady (1993-2003). She is also a recipient of the “Leaders in Learning” award.