Reducing Online Security and Privacy Risk in Your School

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Student privacy and school security are growing concerns in schools that can have consequences from negative media attention to losing parent and student trust. Defining and assessing levels of risk in the school is a crucial part of online security and privacy. Although there is no such thing as zero risk, there are measures we can take to significantly reduce risk. Bill Fitzgerald, Director of the Privacy Evaluation Initiative for Common Sense Media, provided simple ways to assess online privacy and security in “Online Security, Privacy, and Risk: How to Avoid Becoming a Headline.”

Along with the possibility of negative headlines, consequences for inadequate protection in schools can include an impact on family and student trust, which affects learning and also the quality of work environment. One way to lay groundwork for reducing risk is by looking at a checklist of a few guiding principles, and figuring out your answers. For example: What do you want to protect? Who do you want to protect it from? How much energy is required to protect it? Once you have the answers to questions like these, you’ll have a strong sense of your risk profile.

Guiding questions for online security and privacy



Take a second look at whose needs are being met when implementing solutions. The school, district, and curriculum needs may be coming before teacher, parent, or student needs. In fact, those who are impacted the most are often not brought into the decision-making process at all. Figure out how you can involve students in evaluating and providing feedback on the tools they’re using to learn. Bill also noted, “Ensuring that students have a realistic expectation of what’s protected and what’s private and what’s public is a key part of creating an environment that respects student agency and supports student inquiry.”

To get a quick a sense of the online security and privacy of a website, Bill recommended checking for “https” in the URL. If you can load the website under just “http,” the website may not be enforcing encryption. Also, if a website has social media share buttons, the share buttons often send information about your behavior back to these services. To quickly scan through a privacy policy, Bill recommended doing a search for terms like “changes,” “changes to,” “notice,” “notification,” “personal information,” etc. However, there is no substitute for reading the full policy.

Although it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when dealing with privacy and security issues, you can start tomorrow with simple solutions like finding out what your school’s breach notification plan is, and if your school doesn’t have one, start the conversation. Also, review the school’s data and file backup plan, as well as your own personal plan. Read your school’s social media guidelines and review your privacy settings. Last, understand why it’s important to care about these issues by having “the talk” with others about data privacy and security.

This broadcast was hosted by and Common Sense Education and sponsored by Symantec.

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This article was modified and published by EdScoop.

About the Presenter

Bill Fitzgerald is a privacy advocate and technologist at Common Sense Media. Prior to joining Common Sense, Bill started and ran FunnyMonkey, an open source development shop focused on education, open educational resources, and peer-based learning. Prior to that, he worked as a classroom teacher for 16 years. At Common Sense, Bill directs the Privacy Evaluation Initiative, a program designed to evaluate privacy policies and practices of vendors building educational technology. Bill is a firm believer in improving our educational system through an increased focus on learner agency, and this is the lens through which he views student data privacy.

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