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Staying on guard: the top 4 school regulatory requirements for school communication

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By Jay Cooper
Oct 13, 2021 10:20:00 AM

FERPA, ADA, PPRA, FIA. As an educational administrator, you’re likely very familiar with these acronyms and the heavy dose of regulations that schools have to manage on a daily basis. These regulations serve a valuable purpose, but that doesn’t make them any less cumbersome to deal with. These laws deal with lots of issues – privacy, accessibility, public transparency –  that impact everything from lunch menus to restrooms to websites. 

Many of those federal regulations also involve your technical processes and your online activities. School web accessibility assures that your web communications are truly accessible to your disabled and non-disabled users alike. To that end, making your site ADA-compliant should be high on your to-do list. Designing a school website that everyone can access.

It’s no wonder school administrators need a regulatory attorney to get through the day.

Some schools aren’t as aware as they should be about the number of important regulations they need to comply with in regard to their website, online activities, and computer access within the school. Staying on top of these regulatory requirements is challenging for any superintendent, school information manager or tech director. Fundamental knowledge of FERPA, ADA, PPRA and FIA should be part of your staff training and addressed in school communications planning
Here’s a brief review of the biggest tech-related regulations and how they may impact your school’s online policies:

1. Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Under this regulation, families have the right to request their child’s education records and they have the right to submit those requests via email or an online submission form. The school is also required to reply to those requests.

The takeaway from a technological standpoint is that you should have systems in place so that parents can easily make those requests, plus you can see the requests and respond to them in a timely manner. Consider creating a dedicated email address for such requests or, better yet, creating a specific submission form on your website. School officials can start here for information and resources on making and keeping your district FERPA compliant. You can also check the U.S. FERPA FAQ page that answers questions you or your parents might have.

2. The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)

This regulation protects minor students from disclosing personal information if they or their parents don’t wish to disclose the information in question. This extends to electronic surveys, polls or other questionnaires. Under the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment regulation, schools must get consent from parents before asking children about specific personal information.

One way to do this is to have an email system that can quickly send consent forms to parents. Once the parents consent, the email software can record the answer and you can then move forward with any survey or questionnaire that you need to conduct. Here's a handy article on building an effective survey.

3. The Freedom of Information Act (FIA)

This regulation applies specifically to public schools. As government institutions, you’re required to respond to requests for information, just like any other government agency. Under the Freedom of Information Act, you must make available copies of all records, regardless of format. That includes emails, blog posts, and more.

You also must respond to requests within 10 days. Of course, this means that you need to keep your records and emails in an easily accessible form of storage. Ideally, a database that is searchable and sortable could help you quickly find any requested pieces of information.

4. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

You’re likely familiar with the requirements that your school’s building and facilities be ADA-compliant – ramps, handrails, parking spaces, etc. But did you know that the Americans with Disabilities Act extends to your website? That’s because your website is the online proxy for your school – the official school communications hub – and disabled students and parents need to have access to it just as all other members of your community do.

For example, your website should be designed in such a way that it’s easy for screen readers to scan. Website visitors should have the option to skip over unnecessary text, like navigation. It also means your site should have clear headings and text structure so the reader can announce any breaks in the text. The responsibility to protect students with disabilities includes your website, so be certain your website is ADA-compliant.

Protect your school information legally

These are just a few of the major tech-related regulations. You also likely need filters and blockers on your network to prevent students from accessing inappropriate online content. Monitoring software can also help you prevent students from bullying or harassing other students online while using school-issued devices. A lot goes into protecting your students and your district legally from information negligence and abuses.

Again, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Toss in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), where you have immunization records and school nurses dealing with protected information; Title I, which supplements educational resources for disadvantaged students; and nutrition regulations as required by Ms. Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, and it’s no wonder school administrators need a regulatory attorney to get through the day.

All these regulations are important, or else they wouldn’t exist, right? Leave the breakfast and lunch planning to the nutrition experts, but the laws that affect student privacy, family rights, and accessibility need to be priorities for school administrators.

FERPA, Freedom of Information, Pupil Rights, ADA and 508 – are the ones that need your attention first. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re compliant, now may be the time to do a thorough review. Get your district’s chief information or chief tech officer on these top 4 school regulatory requirements to keep your school information management on the right side of these laws.

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Topics: School Districts

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About the author

Marketing director and content strategist for SchoolNow, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at jay@schoolnow.com.