Nov 07 2022

How to Communicate Student Data Privacy Protections to Families More Effectively

To bolster your school’s communication strategy on cybersecurity, consider these K–12 leaders’ approaches.

Parents and guardians of K–12 students are rather aware and concerned about student data privacy, but a majority are lacking specific information from their schools.

A 2020 Center for Democracy and Technology report shows that without additional details about threats, 62 percent of parents showed some level of concern over student data privacy. However, the same report shows that less than half of parents (4 in 10) say their child’s school has discussed with them how it protects student data.

School districts are taking student data privacy more seriously in a number of ways, including by investing in cybersecurity professionals and implementing stronger operational security measures and educational technology that keeps data safe.

But communicating these measures to parents is also an essential part of the process. This not only helps give parents peace of mind, but it also ensures that the school and parents are working together on cybersecurity, which has become especially important with remote learning.

“We have been entrusted with the data of their children, of our kids, and it’s the parents’ right to know how that data is being protected,” says Gary W. Lackey, director of cybersecurity at the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District in Texas.

Gary Lackey
We have been entrusted with the data of their children, of our kids, and it’s the parents’ right to know how that data is being protected.”

Gary W. Lackey Director of Cybersecurity, Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District

To bolster your own school’s communication around cybersecurity, consider the ways Lackey and other K–12 leaders reach out to parents and the community.

Make Resources Easily Accessible on School Websites

Lackey and his team communicate their cybersecurity initiatives by posting documents on the district’s website to explain what the schools do to protect student data. These documents are available whenever parents want to access them.

Goose Creek CISD’s cybersecurity and data privacy page breaks down the district’s privacy policies, security measures and data governance practices to help parents stay informed.

The same is true at Community High School District 99 in Illinois, where most materials are available on its website. According to Rod Russeau, the district’s technology and information services director, the website includes information about accessing the ParentSquare portal for vital resources. Parents can also find information on the district’s data security and privacy page.

Click the banner to learn more about protecting your district with resources from CDW.

Keep Cybersecurity Information Simple in Communicating with Parents

Consider that most of your audience doesn’t have the same deep technical knowledge as your cybersecurity team. Do what you can to explain complex processes in simple terms, avoiding jargon and unnecessary details. Put the information in terms that relate to parents’ experiences with technology and why it should be important to them.

“Succinct communication is always essential. When messages are particularly important, separating them from other communication so that they stand alone helps,” Russeau says. “Tie what you are hoping they understand to their personal use of technology and electronic data.”

For example, to convey the importance of using strong passwords and multifactor authentication, cite real-world examples of organizations that experienced data breaches and what happened to their users.

“Boil it down to the fact that if we have a data breach and the kids’ Social Security numbers get released, they may have credit cards or loans taken out in their name,” Lackey says.

LEARN MORE: Cybercriminals are attacking networks using cloud storage services.

Break Information Into Bite-Sized Chunks

Don’t force parents to bite off more than they can chew by sending lengthy memos or emails with 10 attachments. Each piece of information you send to parents should have a sharp focus. Touch on only what parents need to know, and discuss key takeaways at a high level.

“It’s really a matter of getting the right information to the right people at the right time,” Lackey says.

Another reason to be succinct: If you volunteer too much about your security posture, you risk bad actors using that information to find holes in your system. The idea is to give parents enough to understand how your data is being protected without sharing the whole process.

Leverage Multichannel Communication When Sharing Information

To reach as many people as possible, use every avenue of communication at your disposal: social media, email, phone calls, blog posts or town-hall discussions. Just be careful not to flood their inboxes. Too much communication may result in parents tuning out, Lackey says. A more effective strategy balances emails and phone calls with indirect communication, such as social media.

UP NEXT: These districts conduct parent-teacher meetings virtually.

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