School districts are increasingly turning to social media to engage with their communities. While social media is an invaluable tool for districts, it’s important to be aware of the risks involved.
So why is social media good for schools? Social media gives districts the ability to connect with parents, students, staff, and community members. However, it also opens up school districts to greater risks of privacy breaches, inappropriate comments, and bullying.
Some districts use social media for communication, while others use it to share news and updates, announce events, and engage with their community members.
Regardless of how your district uses social media, it’s important to know the risks. Your district has a responsibility to protect the privacy of your students, staff, and community.
Let’s explore some of the most important social media laws for teachers and schools, best practices for managing social media for school districts, and how to protect privacy on social media.
Understanding K-12 Privacy Laws and Regulations
Your school district has a responsibility to protect the privacy of your students, staff, and community, whether on social media or offline.
School districts must abide by all applicable laws, policies, and regulations.
When it comes to social media, this means being aware of state and federal laws as well as school district policies. Here are some important laws that regulate social media for school districts.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the confidentiality of personally identifiable information contained in a student’s school record.
The FERPA does not specifically address social media, but it is crucial to keep in mind that a post or remark might easily violate FERPA laws.
In order to share any information from a student’s educational record, the school is required under FERPA to have written consent from the parent.
Social media posts can easily fall into this category. For example, a post praising a student for academic success may possibly be a FERPA violation, especially if the school didn’t explicitly ask for approval before publishing it online.
|Related: FERPA and Email Communication: The Role of Email Archiving in Education|
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) protects the privacy of children under the age of 13. COPPA was enacted in 1998, well before most school districts were using social networks.
While COPPA doesn’t specifically apply to social media, it still applies to some school websites. If your school district has a website, it is required by law to have parental consent before collecting or sharing any personal information about children under 13.
For example, if the school district has a form for parents to fill out when enrolling their child, the school must obtain parental consent before collecting any personally identifiable information (PII).
Although online service owners and operators are generally responsible for ensuring that they have permission to collect information, teachers are often placed in a position where they must provide permission, rather than parents, for the collection of information.
The decision to use an educational social networking site like TED-Ed must be made with consideration of COPPA and the ramifications. Student names and usernames must be collected with consent, and the source of that consent must be clearly stated.
|Related: Social Media Archiving in Regulated Industries: Why It Matters in 2022|
School districts’ own policies and guidelines
When it comes to social media in schools, many school districts create their own rules.
It’s common for a school district to have an official social media policy that explains exactly how social media platforms should be utilized. Teachers and schools are expected to abide by the best practices laid out by their school district.
In this regard, the school district is an excellent starting point when seeking advice on how to handle social media channels and preserve students’ privacy.
How to Protect Privacy on Social Media
With all these rules and regulations, you might be wondering — should you even use social media for schools?
The answer is still yes. Social media has many benefits, so don’t be discouraged by regulations. Managing social media for school districts doesn’t have to be particularly dangerous or challenging if you follow these best practices:
1. Review applicable laws and school districts policies
We already discussed FERPA and COPPA and what they mean for students and social media. Some states and school districts have additional social media regulations that you should be aware of.
For example, if you are a teacher in a school district in California, you should familiarize yourself with the California Education Code.
Familiarize yourself with the relevant best practices and policies and, if necessary, request training for your social media manager and legal teams.
2. Never post PII without consent
Personally identifiable information (PII), can be any piece of information that could identify a specific person. PII includes full names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and images.
Avoid using student or staff photos without permission. If you must use photos, then only use photos that you have taken yourself or that are publicly available.
3. Double-check everything you post
Before posting anything on social media, especially images, it’s crucial to double-check your post to avoid accidentally posting PII.
Here are some things you should look out for:
- Faces — you can blur the faces of your students using photo-editing or redaction software.
- Name tags — classrooms should be thoroughly inspected to verify that no name tags are visible.
- Handwriting — biometric data, such as a person’s handwriting, might be considered PII under the terms of FERPA.
4. Educate teachers about social media use
Social media can be a powerful tool for connecting teachers, students, and parents. However, it’s important to train teachers on appropriate social media use.
This includes teaching them how to safeguard students’ privacy on social media and how to respond to online comments.
|Related: The First Amendment and Social Media Policies|
5. Retain social media records
Schools, much like other public-sector bodies, are obligated by law to retain records of official communications, and this requirement extends to include anything posted on social media platforms.
A school would be expected to respond to a FOIA/ open records request from any member of the public and provide the requested information, including social media records.
For this reason, schools must safeguard themselves by keeping meticulous records of everything that appears on their official social media accounts, especially given the inherent risks posed by these restrictions.
|Related: FOIA Management Software|
How Jatheon Can Help
Jatheon offers social media archiving solutions that help schools comply with federal and state regulations and streamlines the FOIA and ediscovery processes.
By using social media archiving, a district can retain, monitor, search and retrieve all relevant social media data from a single screen.
This makes it easier for school districts to respond to potential audits and lawsuits, improve social media compliance, and safeguard students, staff, and their community.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Jatheon can help your school, book a demo today.