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Time was when a handwritten note or a permission slip would get the job done, but those days left with the polished apple for teacher. Protecting your school and school information has taken on larger dimensions, as schools scramble to keep pace with the increasing regulations required to communicate securely and legally.
There are several laws that every school should be mindful of when it comes to planning their school communications. This chapter provides a rundown of the most important ones.
Under FERPA, families have the right to request and receive their child’s education records, and they have the right to submit those requests via email or an online submission form. Your school should have the systems in place so that parents can easily make those requests, and you can 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 government’s FERPA FAQ page that answers questions you or parents might have.
Besides ramps, handrails, parking spaces, etc.,the Americans with Disabilities Act extends to your website.
Because your website is the online proxy for your school, disabled students and parents need to have access to it just as all other members of your community do. This applies to screen readers, which are often used by individuals with poor vision. Your website should be designed in such a way that it’s easy for a screen reader to scan. That means the reader 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.
Yes, protecting students with disabilities includes your website, so be certain your website is ADA and 508 compliant.
This one is fresh off the wire. Designed originally, in part, to protect us all from those pesky telemarketers and such, the TCPA was expanded by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate automated voice and text messages many schools are using.
Pay special attention if you have, or are considering implementing a notification system at your school. The key here is consent. If your school uses a notification system, you should require all recipients who subscribe to the notification service to provide consent. Otherwise, your school is legally exposed to potential fines for contacting subscribers without their consent. Especially since more and more schools are using notification systems for much than emergencies (when health or safety issues are not in play), be safe, and be certain to gain permission from all your users.
This federal regulation is another safeguard for children and their families. It prohibits any kind of unfair or deceptive methods when it comes to collecting, using or disclosing any personal information about children on the internet. COPPA addresses primarily websites, apps, games and other online services that children may interact with. Any and all sites must obtain verifiable consent from a parent or guardian before they collect personal information from a child.
This regulation protects minor students from disclosing personal information if 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.
Who knew when you signed up to be a school communicator that you'd have to wade through the legal alphabet soup? While compliance with these laws is best left to your district's legal counsel, it's imperative that any school communicator–and most administrators– should be well aware of these laws.
School districts must be ever vigilant to keep a keen focus on the legal landscape upon which any successful, and lawful, school communications program is built.
Carve out a page on your school district website – preferably in the footer that shows up on all your district and school sites – that informs your school community of your compliance when it comes to pupil and family privacy and accessibility.
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