Critical Steps for Safeguarding Data Privacy

By Stacey Pusey

Data Privacy in Our Connected Learning World: Earning the Trusted Learning Environment Seal edWebinar recording link


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Of course, there are technical aspects to protecting data, and as many schools have learned during the pandemic, district IT staff need to stay on top of evolving efforts to compromise systems. But that’s just one part of guarding student information. During a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, the presenters discussed the policies and practices that also keep data safe in a digital education environment.

Based on CoSN’s Student Data Privacy: A School System Priority. An Essential Commitment,” part of the Empowered Superintendent Toolkit, the presenters talked about five key areas that can help ensure student data privacy.

  1. Stay current and compliant with federal and state laws. The federal government has an alphabet soup of laws that can impact student privacy, and states are adding to and changing theirs as well. While it’s everyone’s job at the school to understand how the laws impact their work, the presenters agreed that districts need a point person who focuses on staying current with privacy laws and regulations. In addition, it’s wise for districts to become involved with shaping the laws to make sure that legislation actually helps—not hinders—students and learning.
  2. Address community and stakeholder expectations early and often. Every stakeholder group needs to have a clear understanding of district policies and their role in implementing them. But more important, district leaders should try and take the fear and tension out of conversations around data privacy. Yes, discuss how to protect the data, but also explain the benefits of the data and how the schools use it to positively impact student learning.
  3. Keep instructional impacts in the picture. Data-driven decision making may have become a cliche statement, but it really is at the center of how districts can help students. However, it’s about the right data in the right hands. For example, the pandemic and forced distance learning have impacted social-emotional learning for many children. Understanding that impact can help teachers create lessons to help them with their specific needs.
  4. Responsive, responsible privacy administration and management mitigate risk. Again, this means making sure each staff member understands their role in safeguarding data—and that they can clearly communicate those policies to anyone who asks.
  5. Training. Training. Training. The presenters offer constant professional development and feedback so that they can help their staff make protecting student data second nature. One suggestion was having video training available during the summer so that staff can do more extensive learning on their own time.

As with every other part of a superintendent’s job, constituents are looking to the superintendent for steadiness and leadership even under the most challenging circumstances. While no one is 100% right, if leaders are thoughtful and reflective and communicate clearly as events unfold, their communities will support them.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA.

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About the Presenters

The 2019 Region 13 Superintendent of the Year, Bruce Gearing, Ed.D. has served as the Leander ISD (TX) superintendent since September 2019. Leander ISD is a fast-growth district, adding approximately 1,000 new students every year and serving more than 40,000 students. Prior to joining Leander ISD, Dr. Gearing served as Superintendent of Dripping Springs ISD from 2012-2019 and as Superintendent of Marshall ISD from 2009–2012. Dr. Gearing is a frequent presenter at state and regional conferences and has participated in national educational leadership activities such as the Connected Superintendents Summit at the White House. He earned his doctorate degree from Texas A&M – Commerce, master’s degree from Texas A&M – Texarkana, and bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and chemistry from the University of the Witwatersrand. A native of South Africa, Dr. Gearing and his wife, Aldine, moved to the United States 22 years ago, and he proudly became a U.S. citizen in 2010.

Dr. Allan Markley is in his 13th year as Superintendent of Raytown Quality Schools in Missouri. Formerly, he served as Superintendent of the Sparta R-III and Logan-Rogersville R-VIII School Districts. Dr. Markley earned his Ph.D. from St. Louis University. He serves on the Board for the Raytown Chamber of Commerce, Cooperating School Districts of Greater KC, and is Chairman of the Greater KC Suburban Conference and Missouri Securities Investment Program. He is a member of the Greater KC School Administrators Association, Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA), Missouri School Boards’ Association, Midwest Suburban Superintendents Association, Kansas/Missouri Superintendent Leadership Forum, American Association of School Administrators, Raytown Rotary, and Raytown Kiwanis. Dr. Markley often testifies on bills affecting schools. He has overseen the development of a community wellness center, an award-winning employee health clinic, and expansion of early childhood offerings in Raytown. He was the 2018 recipient of MASA’s Robert L. Pearce Award.

Linnette Attai is Project Director for CoSN’s Privacy Initiative and Trusted Learning Environment Program. As founder of the global compliance consulting firm PlayWell, LLC, Linnette delivers strategic advice and training, policy development, and technology assessments, and builds cultures of compliance across a wide range of organizations. She also serves as Virtual Chief Privacy Officer and GDPR Data Protection Officer to select clients. Linnette is a recognized expert in the youth and education sectors and speaks nationally on data privacy matters. She is a TEDx speaker, advisory board member for the Ithaca College Cybersecurity Program, and author of the books, Student Data Privacy: Building a School Compliance Program, Protecting Student Data Privacy: Classroom Fundamentals, and Student Data Privacy: Managing Vendor Relationships.

About the Host

Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director for Educational Technology in Klein ISD, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 educators serving 50,000 students. She was co-chair of the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology.

Today, Ann works as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Advisory Council for ERDI’s Alliance for Education Impact and Project Tomorrow’s Advisory Council. She is also a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann is the co-author of Life Lessons in Leadership, for leaders ages eight to eighty-eight.

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Stacey Pusey is an education communications consultant and writer. She assists education organizations with content strategy and teaches writing at the college level. Stacey has worked in the preK-12 education world for 20 years, spending time on school management and working for education associations including the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group. Stacey is working with as a marketing communications advisor and writer.