PTAC to release modules to train teachers on FERPA regulations

The U.S. Education Department‘s Privacy Technical Assistance Center recently identified shortfalls in the teaching profession and found a need for district-led professional development to prepare teachers to meet privacy and data security requirements at the federal, state, and local levels.

To meet this need, the agency is developing a set of modules that local educational agencies can use and modify to specifically train educators on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulations. The training will be available on the Protecting Student Privacy website in the fall, according to agency officials.

PTAC conducted an information-gathering exercise of more than 70 teachers and administrators from 17 schools representing rural, urban, small, large, and medium-sized schools, and gleaned insight into how much professional development teachers are getting on FERPA, how much is focused on privacy, and which learning methods help educators the most.

Responses revealed a gap in teachers’ learning. Respondents also said that the most effective training should contain interactive activities, relevance, and “immediate applicability” to their jobs, as well as opportunities to collaborate with their peers and administrators, said Eric Gray, a subject-matter expert at PTAC, during a session at the 2017 STATS-DC Data Conference in Washington.

“Most felt that they would benefit from extra training on student privacy,” he said of the survey results.

“Most felt that they didn’t want to learn the minutiae of the laws if they didn’t need to know it, but they also echoed that they don’t know what they don’t know, and want to be guided to information that’s useful in the changing technological landscape.”

He also said that responses reflected a strong desire for “differentiated” content in the subject and instruction on student data privacy and data security, and that any such training be further customized by occupational role.

A strong majority indicated that if they had received previous FERPA training, that they “knew enough to get by,” he noted.

They are putting together a series of six modules that address two core areas: statutes and regulation, as well as best practices.

He said the modules are designed with an intent to develop “a culture of privacy at the ground level” and to help build knowledge of FERPA “into muscle memory” among those at the school level in a way similar to the way HIPPA is culturally ingrained in the health care and social services sector.

“We want to establish a culture of student privacy at the ground level,” Gray told attendees.

Flexible modules

The module is expected to contain a downloadable PowerPoint presentation, as well as a lesson plan that has customizable sections and spaces for local content to be added.

The topics will cover the following:

  • Basic overview of FERPA.
  • Key provisions of the statute.
  • Overview and explanation of definitions.
  • Description and explanation of personally identifiable information.
  • Explanation of parent and eligible student rights.

The modules will cover FERPA in a more generalized fashion, but they can be customized to include any relevant state and local regulations and to meet district’s needs, Gray said, adding that there is “inherent flexibility into the training materials.”

The modules are divided into several topics and can be removed or realigned as necessary. Lessons can also be combined into larger lessons or given as is, Gray said.

This customization element is “so the districts can do it themselves and they can add policies, procedures, and brand it,” explained Baron Rodriguez, who manages contractor resources and the State Longitudinal Data Systems Education Technical Assistance Program at Privacy Technical Assistance Center.

“It doesn’t have to be seen as a ‘federal’ [directive],'” Rodriguez said in an interview. “There’s some sensitivities with the local control [so] they can take [the modules] and make it their own. They can take it and customize it and even put it in their [learning management system]” to keep track of who completes the training.

“That was our idea,” he said. “A lot of districts are implementing required data security and sometimes privacy training as well. That was really something we heard from the field.

“They said, ‘Can you give it to us so that we can put it in our system? We want to be able to track and make sure that when we have new teachers come in that this is part of their orientation.'”

Emily Ann Brown covers education technology and STEM education issues for LRP Publications.

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