WASHINGTON, D.C. – Data privacy experts are warning parents about their child’s privacy rights and explaining what exactly they must do to prevent school officials from sharing sensitive student data.
NBC News Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum told WTOP public schools collect information on students that’s shared with the government, or sold to marketing companies or others, but parents have the right to keep the information private.
“Schools are allowed by federal law to share or sell directory information about their students with anyone, including data brokers and marketing companies, unless they have a parental opt-out form on file,” Weisbaum said.
The news site explains that the opt-out form typically isn’t easy to find, as schools often hide the document at the back of enrollment packets or bury it online. And parents only have a short time frame to fill out the form that good for a full school year, so if they miss the window their child’s information cannot be blocked until school starts again.
For those who neglect to fill out the form, they can expect “a torrent of advertising, or worse – you know, this is just the sort of information a stalker, abuser, predator or identity thief needs,” Weisbaum said.
Information schools collect on students is vast, and can include their name, “home address, email address, telephone number, date and place of birth, height, weight, clubs or sports teams, even a photograph,” WTOP reports.
“And after the school releases this data, it is then considered to be public information, and you’ve lost control of it,” Weisbaum told the news site. “So if you didn’t get that form, or you can’t find the form, contact your district right away.”
The World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping private information private, works to inform parents about their rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA.
“WPF encourages parents and students to opt out of directory information sharing; we have a how-to page here on just how to get this done. We also have a sample FERPA opt out form you can print out and take to your school,” according to the WPF website.
“Opting out is important for everyone, but it is essential for members of law enforcement or the judiciary, public figures, victims of identity theft, or anyone who is handling issues related to domestic violence, assault, or stalking.”
WPF executive director Pam Dixon said “a photo of a child, along with their email and home address, is a recipe for disaster in the wrong hands. And that’s exactly the kind of thing we need to keep from happening,” according to the Parent Herald.
Jules Polonetsky, data policy expert with the nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum, seconded Dixon’s concerns, and also encourages parents to learn more about student privacy rights.
“A lot of parents miss that FERPA form or don’t take the time to fill it out,” Polonetsky said. “Get informed because you have rights. Find that FERPA notice. Read it and decide what options are right for your child.”