Georgia Continues to Lead on Student Data Privacy


State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced this week that Georgia has appointed its first chief privacy officer, Levette Williams.

Williams has stated that she will be training school districts on the importance of collecting and protecting data about students. Williams has been dealing with data issues with the Department of Education since 2000.

A study by Fordham Law School’s Center on Law and Information Policy found that the data shared with private companies may include grades, test scores, attendance records, disability, family relationships, and social security numbers. 95% of school districts send student records to companies for the purpose of managing important school services, but only 7% of those districts sign contracts that forbid the companies from selling this data.

Phil W. Hudson of the Atlanta Business Chronicle highlighted Superintendent Woods’ view that protecting student data is a priority:

Protecting student privacy is an immediate priority for my administration. As innovations in classroom technology continue, even greater attention to the protection of student data is necessary. I want parents to send their children to school in Georgia knowing full well that student information is entirely private and secure. Ms. Williams has a strong background in data security and I know she will do an excellent job working with K-12 stakeholders to ensure that we have policies and procedures in place to protect our students’ privacy.

A new student privacy law was passed in Georgia this year which shored up practices that were already in use by the state’s education department. It set guidelines on what kind of information can be collected, prevented the sale of student data, and stopped third-party sites or school applications to use student data to target advertising. It has been called “the most comprehensive” of the student privacy bills introduced in 46 states so far this year.

Dana Rickman, policy and research director with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said that Georgia hasn’t broken any of these policies, but that parents often had questions about why data on performance and background was being collected and how it was being used.

Kathleen Foody of Associated Press writes that Williams reinforced the purpose of data:

Data paints a picture. We never collect data just because we’re curious.

Congress has been following suit, with Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Edward Markey of Massachusetts recently reintroducing the Protecting Student Privacy Act from 2014, writes Nicole Gorman of Education World.

This bill would update the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and, according to the senators’ op-ed on The Hill, will:

… empower schools to restrict the amount of time a private company can hold on to student records, provide parents with the right to access personal information about their children that is held by private companies, and back-up companies who institute comprehensive data security programs.

Soon after, Representatives Luke Messer of Indiana and Jared Polis of Colorado introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015. This would prohibit the selling of students’ information, using the data for advertising, and disclosing the information to third parties.

The act would also allow parents and students to access their own data and to delete some information if they so choose, and addresses ed tech gaming companies and their data collection. So far, over 20 education groups support the act.