Keeping students secure at school is critical, and it encompasses more than locked entrances and zero-tolerance policies. Safety also involves protecting student data, especially as schools undergo a digital transformation. Education professionals—both on the administration and IT side—as well as faculty need to take steps to safeguard student information as documents flow between hard copy and digital touch points. These five steps will help you protect your students and their private information.
Paper is an inevitable part of information exchange, but it’s important to acknowledge and address the risk that the information can easily get in the wrong hands. Education professionals must implement responsible practices that focus on security at the interplay between digital and print records. Start with student records that contain private information, such as social security numbers and birth dates. Capture and digitize print records using document scanners that are connected to an encrypted network. And when hard copies are required, use a printer that’s connected to a network that requires authentication for document release. Then implement a system to destroy paper records after use, according to your state’s guidelines.
Student information needs to be properly stored. While paper documents can be put into a locked filing system, scanned documents should be stored with cloud vendors that offer reliable, scalable and protected solutions. When choosing a storage method, give consideration to retrieval by classifying information according to sensitivity and assigning access only to those who need it. For example, teachers should have access to grades and contact information, but they may not need to have access to a student’s social security number. Limiting the number of staff members with access can reduce your risk of having information compromised.
Peripheral equipment that integrates with your information system should provide an audit trail to track usage. Choose compatible printers, scanners, mobile devices or online storage that are connected through an encrypted network and placed in monitored areas. You can also implement two-factor authentication on printers to allow only authorized individuals to retrieve printed documents. Transmit data using encryption that would make the information unusable if it were comprised. Make sure your equipment meets your state’s privacy guidelines, and routinely check for software updates that provide patches. And do not expose printers to the public internet; there is no reason for anyone outside of approved school personnel to have access.
Unfortunately, not every K-12 school has an IT professional on staff or even in the district. In this case, administrators need to appoint someone who will stay on top of laws and regulations relevant to your district. Routinely review regulations and update policies about student information as well as access rights, managing data throughout its lifecycle—from capture to disposal. Also, vet your vendors carefully.
Most data breaches are caused by human error, and training your education professionals and faculty members on potential scams, information safety and the secure use of web-based software is vital. Since a lot of student information is stored digitally, anyone with access is essentially an IT staff member. Conduct training throughout the year on how to protect student information. Put into place an approval process for usage of any web-based tools used for educational purposes. Teachers might unknowingly share student data through the use of software, such as a social media platform or a file-sharing service that doesn’t meet security or privacy standards. And ensure that all staff members are aware of the security features of their printers and understand how to use them to safeguard information.
For education professionals, faculty and administrators, keeping students safe while they learn is the most important job. By implementing these five steps, you’ll ensure that your learning institution is one that values students’ safety on all levels. While it’s a large and serious undertaking, the return on investment is priceless–protecting our future.