Navigating FERPA, COPPA, and CIPA: What You Need to Know to Keep You and Your Students Safe

Navigating FERPA, COPPA, and CIPA: What You Need to Know to Keep You and Your Students Safe

Written by: Chris Young

April 7, 2020

An unexpected box of Oreos, Doritos, Party Pizzas, and Peanut Butter M&M’s all make their way into my cart. Not one of these items was on my list and, while delicious, are not things that I’ll feel good about eating. We’ve all walked into the grocery store hungry and know that feeling of giving in to temptation all too well. In these uncharted times of remote learning, we are asked to design for learning and instruction in ways we’ve never done before, and because of this… We, as educators, are all very hungry. Capitalizing on just how ‘hungry’ educators are, many educational technology content providers have come to the rescue with nourishment in the form of limited-time free access to their products. It’s wonderful to have so many options now, but we should not put everything in our figurative cart because it may not be healthy for us and our students. So how do we know!? CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA are federal laws to keep students safe online, so they are a great place to start. This knowledge will help us make sure we are choosing the right ingredients to design these metaphorical meals for learning and growth. CIPA: The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was enacted by Congress to address concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content online. 

Ingredient List: Schools MUST keep kids safe online. This includes having policies and guidelines in place. This is why you may be frustrated with your technology department for blocking things you want access to. The technology department cannot filter everything, so you have a role in keeping students safe online, too.

Safe For Online Consumption: In a virtual learning environment, students must be made aware of the implications and importance of appropriate online behavior including interacting with others. In other words, consider and share the classroom management necessary for success in this new virtual classroom.

Make life easier on yourself by choosing tools that, while still having interaction, provide less opportunity for student misuse. For example, moderating FlipGrid posts is a great way to still allow students to have the important interaction, yet ensure the safety of all.

COPPA: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) “imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age.”

Ingredient List: Any site that collects information on students 13 or younger requires parent permission. However, schools have been given permission in many cases to act as the parent giving consent for students to access sites. This doesn’t come without risk, and sites that are collecting information and using it inappropriately can put students in danger, and also put you and the school at risk legally.

Safe For Online Consumption: According to Indiana educator and author of Copyrighteous, Diana Gill, start with certifications from iKeepsafe. iKeepsafe is a trusted independent site that provides certifications to educational content providers that are compliant with federal and state privacy laws.

Check Out The List of Certified Sites & Tools: iKeepsafe

Just because something doesn’t find itself in the iKeepsafe certifications doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for use. With any new online tool, you should familiarize yourself with the Terms of Service before sharing it out to students.

FERPA: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. 

Ingredient List: Schools must protect personally identifiable information (PII) from unauthorized disclosure. A student’s name is an example of a PII, so schools will need to evaluate the use of online tools on a case by case basis to see if FERPA protected information is implicated. 

Safe For Online Consumption:

Schools will need to evaluate the use of online tools on a case-by-case basis to determine if FERPA-protected information like a student name is implicated. Many sites will collect data on length of time, usage, answers correct, but will strip out the FERPA protected information. Similar to COPPA, the Terms of Service are massively important to know. 

For example, Zoom has faced scrutiny because it isn’t a product for student teleconferencing, and its Terms of Service allowed for selling of customer data to outside companies. Zoom is changing their policies, but these are the concerns that we need to be mindful of as we are designing virtually.

Check out this compiled list of suggested resources by the Indiana Department of Education.

As educators, it is our number one priority to keep students safe. The same way you may look at a food’s ingredient list to know what you’re putting into your body, we must do the same as we select from the ever-increasing menu of online options for students. Ensure that what you’re providing students is safe for them to consume.  We’ve seen the photos of empty aisles in local grocery stores because some people are taking more than they need. Just like real life, make it easier on yourself and others by filling your cart with only what you and yours need. Be well.



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  • Chris Young is the Strategic Learning Coordinator at Southern Hancock Schools, and is a Google Certified Innovator, Trainer, and Educator as well as an Apple Certified Teacher.

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