In response to a recent post encouraging parents to ask questions about schools’ data security and data privacy, “Speak up parents, speak up,” one of this site’s regular readers submitted a comment:
Parents don’t care. All they want to see are their children’s photos on school Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account pages for the whole world to see.
I am sorry to burst the bubble. There is only a small minority of parents who have concerns about this issue.
I asked him for the basis for his comment, but also pointed out that it doesn’t take a majority to effect change.
Less than 12 hours later, I heard from parents in Canada who had been actively advocating for student privacy. They had challenged the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for failing to seek or obtain parental consent to a teacher-created survey that they viewed as containing mental health-related queries. They had also challenged the district (and Google) because parents had never been asked to consent to their children’s use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) or non-GAFE tools. A copy of the contract between Google and the District as well as a review of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) suggested that while the District could consent on behalf of students for some things, it should have sought written consent – even if only as “best practices” – for some applications and activities. Whether COPPA came into play at all if the student data was stored on a server in the U.S. added another layer of complexity to our attempt to understand Google’s responsibilities and the district’s responsibilities, but neither Google nor the U.S. Federal Trade Commission was giving PogoWasRight.org particularly straightforward and clear answers.
I had written up some of the parents’ concerns and advocacy efforts here.
The update I received yesterday from one of the parents made me smile. I am redacting the note slightly:
I wanted to let you know about the outcome of the efforts [we] took last school year in the discussions with our school board of Toronto district: two days ago both of my kids (even the little one who just started Junior Kindergarten), received hard copy of the subject consent form, and yesterday we received below e-mail from the school about the board’s “focus on student privacy:”
Student privacy continues to be an area of focus for the TDSB and our parents/guardians. This September all schools will be obtaining parent/guardian consent for the use of district provided Digital Learning Tools including G Suite for Education and Desire to Learn (BrightSpace).
The TDSB Digital Learning Tools Consent Form appears below this post. In relevant part, it reads:
Some digital learning tools require that the TDSB share limited personal information such as the student’s name and email address for the purpose of creating an account to use the tool or service. Personal information (name and email address) is used and shared by the TDSB for the above-noted purposes under the authority of Education Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). If you have any questions, please contact your school Principal directly.
At the following link, please find a list of district provided digital learning tools that are available to all students and teachers. bit.ly/TDSBDLT (case sensitive)
___ I do give permission for my child to use district provided Digital Learning Tools. (This consent will remain in effect until it is revoked by me in writing.)
___ I do not give permission.
This blogger does not know what happens if a parent denies consent. But as stressful as their advocacy was for these two parents, it appears that they made a positive difference for all students in their district because parents are now being informed that they have the right to give – or refuse – consent. Maybe not all will care or even check, but maybe some will. It’s a start.
Kudos to these two parents. I wish we had more like them!TDSBDigitalLearnToolConsentFinal