About a year and a half ago, I wrote a policy idea called the Privacy Of Student Technology Act (also known as the POST Act), which would help to expand media consent forms for how images and videos of students are shared by their teachers and schools. I wrote this policy as a member of my college’s Roosevelt Institute chapter, and today I am sharing the full text of this policy idea in honor of Safer Internet Day 2020 with the goal that it can be implemented in other places.
- Be Internet Awesome With Visual Impairment: Safer Internet Day 2020
- Seeing The Future: My Feature in 10 Ideas
- Seeing The Future: A Proposed Resource For Students With Vision Impairments
POST Act Summary
Reforming the student media release form for the 21st century educational standards and allowing families to decide how a student’s image will be used online by their school district.
Student- A person that is enrolled in a school and receives a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE includes students that access the general and adapted curriculum and are 22 years of age or younger.
Parent- A parent or legal guardian of a student that receives FAPE
Image- How a student is portrayed in media, such as photos or videos, as well as assignments where identifying information about a student is attached
Social media- Media-sharing websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc
Background and Analysis
At the beginning of the school year, parents are given a form to sign that gives the school district the right to use their students name and image in any form of school-related media. This can include having their name printed in the honor roll, publishing information about extracurricular activities, and printing their class photo in the newspaper. Parents are not told when or if their student’s name or image will be used, or for what reason it will be used.
As more teachers expand learning beyond the classroom and incorporate internet-based resources such as social media, the current model of the student media release form allows for teachers and other school staff to post photos and videos of students on a variety of public platforms, or to have students publish their own work on the public internet for anyone to see. With this model, a video of a student giving a speech can be put online by their teacher without their knowledge or consent, and a photo of two students can be posted to a photo-sharing website. Many of these posts may include incriminating details such as the full name of the student, the name of their school, and even what class period they are from.
Students and parents have no control over how their image is used or who it is viewed by. Many families may not even know that there are photos and videos of their student on the internet that their school posted, or that student work is visible online. This is obvious for public platforms, but even private accounts and platforms can still be viewed by a wide audience- for example, by clicking the “share post” button on an Instagram photo, anyone who clicks on the link can access the photo. There is also no control over how long a photo or video stays up on the internet, which can have a negative effect on future employment and can subject the student to ridicule from their peers depending on what is shared.
• If a student posts a photo or video online on their own profile, they can set who sees it and how long it is posted. If a student wants to delete their post, they can do so at any time
• If someone else posts a photo or video of a student, the student has no control over the privacy settings or where it is posted. While they can choose to report a post, there is no guarantee that it will be taken down
• More and more teachers are encouraging students to post information online for educational purposes, including information about controversial topics
• If there is backlash or cyberbullying that stems from a post involving a student’s image, the student may not have the maturity or tools to handle said backlash and may experience an adverse emotional response.
The Policy Idea
In order to allow students and parents to control how their image is used by their school district, the student media release form should be reformed to include information about how a student’s image can be used and allow parents and students to choose when it can be used. Having a blanket media release agreement allows the school district to do whatever they want with a student’s image, and the family has no control over how it is used, and often cannot have their image removed once it is posted. In addition to having the blanket statement that allows for a student’s image to be displayed or not to be displayed for any reason, the following sections should be added to the form in plain language:
Use of non-identifying images
Teachers and school staff may post images of the student as long as their identity is kept anonymous. This includes blurring or blacking out student faces in photos and not posting videos where the students is speaking or any other identifying characteristics. Example images include a photo of a crowd at a school event, a photo of the student’s hands coloring a picture, or group photos with 12 or more people.
Approval on a case-by-case basis
In an example case, a student may feel comfortable having a video of them in the marching band posted on school social media. However, they may not feel comfortable with a video of them giving a speech on anxiety being posted on a video-sharing website. In this case, parents should be able to approve how a student’s image is used on a case-by-case basis and given the opportunity to approve or deny having their student’s image shared. Approval will not be needed if the image qualifies as a non-identifying image (see “Use of non-identifying images”)
Prior to a student’s image being shared, the parent should be notified in writing about the image in question, how it will be shared, and what audience it will be shared to- public or private. From there, a parent can check a box that says whether they approve or deny the use of this image, or they can contact the school with clarifying questions.
Privacy settings for assignments
Parents can request that graded assignments or extra credit assignments for classes not be posted on the public internet or on social media and allow students to complete alternative assignments or have appropriate privacy settings enabled so that no one outside of the class or school can see the content.
Permission to post on social media
Some parents may not want their student’s image posted on any social media platform because they never know who is seeing it or how it can be shared. Parents should be given the following options for how their student’s image will be shared on social media:
• Student’s image can be posted on any website, public or private
• Student’s image can be posted privately on any website
• Student’s image should not be posted on specific website(s) and have parent fill in the name
• Student’s image can be posted on a case-by-case basis (see section on “Approval” above)
• Student’s image cannot be posted on any website, public or private
• Student’s image must be deleted at the end of the school year, with the exception of non-identifying images
The POST Act can be implemented at the state level, so that guidelines regarding a student’s right to privacy and control over how their image is used online can be established, or at the local level by individual school districts so families can have the ability to control how a student’s image is used, and for what reasons. This policy is not expected to cost any additional money to the school district or state.
• Many parents do not allow their student to have social media because they perceive that having their image online at a young age is dangerous
• Any image that is posted online can be saved and shared to any source
• There is no way to control who writes a comment or posts under a specific hashtag
Action Plan Snapshot
If the POST Act is passed or implemented, parents will receive a one-page form at the beginning of the school year that allows for them to have control over how their student’s image is used by the school and school district in online and print media. This form will be created by the school district but must contain the information outlined above in order to meet the newly established state guidelines for student online privacy. By allowing families to make an informed choice about how their student’s image is used, this can help facilitate conversations about internet safety and understanding that once something goes on the internet, it’s there forever.
I wrote this policy after seeing from others how having student information broadcast online without consent can be harmful, and I hope that more stakeholders will take the time to review how they handle student images and how they publish them online. If you have any questions about the POST Act, use the “Contact” page on my website and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Thank you for taking an interest in student privacy!