Safeguarding school data is fundamental to our mission and our business. We believe data are something we protect, not something we own, and we believe security adds value to the work we do for our partners, school districts, and states. We’ve summarized three necessary steps that can help to ensure the security and integrity of this valuable information.
1. Understanding Regulatory Compliance
It sounds basic, but understanding your school, local, and state regulations regarding student data is an essential first step to managing and protecting data. This includes storage, protocols for managing data breaches, and adherence to regulations, contracts, and policies—including Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), any state-specific regulations, and the Parents Bill of Rights.
2. Handling School Data Securely
Understanding how schools receive, store, and manage data, including its transmission to partners via various ecosystems, is fundamental. School districts often interact with numerous databases and vendor systems – from personnel and statewide reporting to school bus schedules, free and reduced lunch rosters, and more.
Creating data regulations, policies, and implementing strict data sharing protocols – both on data that is received and sent via uploading, downloading, and transferring — is essential to a healthy data ecosystem. Additionally, establishing access control, authorization chains — including single sign on (SSO) — and documenting back-end processes are all key components for keeping school data safe.
To simplify data management, one solution is to categorize data into sensitive and non-sensitive categories. Developing a visual flow chart that outlines specific systems and processes for each type of data creates a clear framework for data handling.
To ensure that partners are well-prepared to safeguard sensitive information, it’s crucial to develop and fine-tune rigorous Data Security Agreements (DSAs) while considering various legal, state, and regional aspects of security.
EA approaches our data standards with privacy at the forefront of everything we do. Our Data Strategy team reminds staff and partners to think through the lens of “What if this was your personal information? Would you want it shared via email, text message, or a messaging channel without protections?”
Whether working with EA or another partner, it is crucial that the vendor is SOC2 compliant, and verify their commitment to data security standards; this includes user authentication, data encryption, and strict data protection protocols to minimize vulnerabilities and the risk of data breaches.
3. Training & Communication
Importance of User Training
Most organizations provide mandatory onboarding training about data protection and privacy, yet few people can remember what they learned in the early days of a job. It’s essential to make data security and privacy an ongoing aspect of office culture to cultivate an environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions. At EA, we’ve established and maintained channels and resources where staff can inquire about links, emails, or other security concerns. This open communication illustrates that all questions are taken seriously, creating an environment where all types of questions can be asked.
In practical terms, ensure there is comprehensive training for employees at your organization in regard to sending and receiving sensitive data, storing and destroying it, and procedures to follow during a data breach. Consider regular, at least quarterly refreshers on this information, and make it easily accessible – on an intranet, messaging platform, employee communications, and other methods in which you share important work documentation.
How do you know if your security is going well?
Zero data breaches. This may sound like a near impossibility, but with diligent review and maintenance your school district can strengthen the safety and security of its data. At EA, we provide accessible solutions for the partners we work with, meaning that if smaller districts or collaboratives only have a fraction of the staffing needed for secure data environments, we will bring the necessary resources to complete the equation of a strong, stable environment. EA has also seen that larger school districts might not be adequately staffed with the time and resources to effectively monitor their security, so partnering with an IT security provider becomes an essential investment. Everyone in a school district deserves to have their information protected.
Protecting school data is a collective effort that involves implementing best practices, adhering to regulations, and building a culture of security. By understanding regulations, managing secure transfers of data, and prioritizing user education, educational institutions can safeguard their data.