Protecting Student Data During the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has created and is continuing to create many challenges in our lives. With school closures and stay-at-home orders issued across the nation, state education agencies (SEA) and local education agencies (LEAs) have been identifying ways to support students, manage online learning platforms, and maintain compliance with state and federal regulations. SEA and LEA staff are working remotely, yet they remain responsible for collecting, reporting, analyzing, and using student data. Student data must remain secure, and agencies must have policies and procedures in effect to comply with the confidentiality requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

As you consider virtual communication of student data while working remotely, it is important that you take steps to ensure that such communications are meeting requisite privacy requirements. While email is one of the most convenient ways to share information, many email platforms do not have security features in place to encrypt and protect messages and their attachments, meaning information can potentially be compromised. You can limit breaches of confidential information by establishing communication plans and expectations around data security. If your state or LEA hasn’t established communication plans and/or security protocols, now is the perfect time to start developing them. The IDEA Data Center (IDC) has updated the IDEA Part B Confidentiality Checklist to support you with data confidentiality. The checklist is a great place to start looking for information when developing your security protocols.

With remote work and social distancing still continuing in many states, it is important to review your agency’s existing security measures to protect confidential data. The IDC IDEA Part B Confidentiality Checklist can be a helpful resource to guide this review process and determine if you need to develop security measures or refine measures you already have in order to protect both your students and staff.

Rachel Wilkinson and Nancy O’Hara