Students, Directory Information, and Social Media - Part 2

5 min read

Last week, I put out a post on social media and kids. Apparently, it was read by more than a couple people. I don't keep track of pageviews or reach here - I have no analytics running on this blog, and while I will talk with people on Twitter about things, I have disabled comments on the blog - thanks, spammers and trolls! So, I have no sense of what posts I write on my personal blog here resonate with people. My approach to writing online is to treat it as my outboard brain - the process of writing helps me figure out what I'm thinking, what I'm getting wrong, and where I need to look and learn more. Based on the feedback and response I received on the last post, I wanted to clarify and expand on a couple things.

The premise of the post is that parents should be able to opt their kids out of directory information sharing and having their kid's information (photo and name) shared on social media, and not have this be a barrier to other school activities like yearbook, local news, athletic and music publications, class pictures, and streamlined access to childcare. 

The conversation would be different if directory information was limited to basic information, and if teacher sharing on social media showed higher levels of restraint, but, unfortunately, that is not where we are.

Some school districts - not all, but some - consider a student's name, address, email address, phone number, picture, date of birth, place of birth, and enrollment status to be directory information under FERPA. Under FERPA, local education agencies have the right to define what constitutes directory information. FERPA allows directory information to be shared without consent. It's worth noting that if a company had an incident where this same data was accessed, this would be considered a data breach. Yet, for a kid in kindergarten, schools and districts have the right to designate this as information that can be shared freely. To get a sense of how districts are defining directory information and managing opt-out, take some time and read through district forms. These forms are pretty short, and most of them can be read in under five minutes.

Moving on to social media, some teachers who make regular use of social media often overshare. This is not the case for all teachers - there are many teachers who have don't show kid's faces, only share images of larger activities, don't share student names, and don't share other personal information collected from students. But, the small subset of teachers who overshare complicate the space for their peers, and for school districts attempting to balance proactive outreach with real concerns about learner privacy. When teachers share their school and grade in their bio, that information can be combined with what is shared in social media posts. It's also worth noting that, in many cases, a search across a username on social media sites reveals additional information about people.

While opinions vary on what I am about to say, I do not consider a school web site to be part of social media. Most school web sites have nowhere near the traffic or visibility (to people or search engines) as social media sites. Opinions differ on that point, but I want that distinction clear in this post.

Three recommendations for districts that would address these basic issues include:

  • Limit what is covered under directory information. Ideally, information that allows a kid to be contacted directly would be excluded from directory information;
  • Create a social media policy for teachers that limits the amount of information that teachers can share about a student via an individual teacher's social media account (Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, Snapchat, etc). Ideally, names should not accompany portraits, and call outs to edtech vendors should not accompany a kid's image;
  • Avoid grouping parental and learner rights around data sharing into all-or-nothing buckets. These two forms are good examples of how districts are proactively addressing these needs.

If a district takes steps to minimize what is considered directory information and has a sound social media policy in place, the number of people who feel the need to opt out will likely decrease. This is an opinion based on multiple conversations over years, and like all opinions requires time to see if it holds water. However, my sense (from talking with people who care about learner privacy from within parent and school communities) is that having the option to opt out would reduce concerns about the need to opt out - in other words, when schools recognize the need for the option, people have more trust that the schools understand the issues are are addressing them effectively. 

And, a closing thought: parents also have a role to play here in their sharing on their own social media feeds. Periodically, take a step back and review your social media presence with an eye toward seeing what information you have shared about your family and friends. If we want to emphasize the need for privacy with our kids, we have an obligation to model that with our own behavior as well.