Ensuring FERPA Compliant Printing to Protect Student Privacy

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In 2022, there were approximately 48 million K-12 students and 16 million university students. That’s a lot of student data to protect.

Ensuring the privacy of student data is a crucial part of administration for schools that are funded under any program managed by the U.S. Department of Education. In 1974, the U.S. government addressed this need with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

While this Federal law has been around for decades, the need for privacy of student data has increased with student records being digitized and copiers/multifunction printers (MFPs) commonly being linked to an online network.

What is FERPA? 

FERPA is a set of standards signed into Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. This law gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are "eligible students."

It is important to note that schools may disclose standard student directory-type information without consent. Directory information includes data such as student name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, parents and eligible students must be notified annually by the school that directory information is publicly available and allow them to request that their information not be disclosed. The method of this notification varies by school, but is often written in a PTA bulletin, student handbook or newsletter article. 

CASE STUDY: Racine Unified School District 

FERPA Compliance

If a school is found to be in violation of FERPA, it could face withdrawal of federal funding. Therefore while many FERPA violations are unintentional, it is a best practice to be prepared and avoid the possibility of violation. 

Educate Your Staff 

Start the school year off right and include FERPA as a part of your annual staff training. Be clear and concise. That way everyone is on the same page. We also recommend that you create standardized student record retention policies and share them with your staff. 

Construct Record Retention Policies

Since FERPA doesn’t note a mandatory record retention period, it would be in your best interest to develop a student record retention policy for your school and to train your staff on this policy. 

Play It Safe – Seek Consent

If you are unsure if a request for student data is allowed or if the data is protected by FERPA – play it safe. Seek written consent from the parent, legal guardian or eligible student (whose data is being requested) before releasing. It’s better to be safe.

Printed Document Security

Sensitive information needs to be protected and this includes printed materials. Maintaining confidential student records is a major concern for administrators, and mitigating print security risks with a fleet of shared printers can be a challenge.

Learn about GFC's Print Security

When documents containing confidential data are left on printer trays, it inadvertently creates opportunities for breaching compliance protocol. With Managed Print, users can hold a print job in a queue until they’re able to retrieve it. Then, they simply use a personal ID number (PIN) or badge/card reader to authenticate the request.

There are multiple ways to accomplish this. However, pull printing and secure printing are the most popular methods to print confidential documents more safely on a shared printer.

Pull Printing (or Follow Printing)

Pull printing is a two-step process that ensures information is fully protected because it never leaves the user’s control regardless of environment (e.g. PC, Mac, mobile or Chromebook).

First, the user initiates a print job from their device, placing it on a universal print driver. Then, to complete the job, they must “pull” it from the driver toward any pull print-enabled printer by authenticating the request, either through a graphical user interface (GUI) command or while physically at the printer.

Secure Printing

Secure printing is similar to pull printing in that a user will send their print job, but it will be sent to a designated printer driver and printing device as opposed to having access to multiple drivers and devices. Once at the designated device, the user will complete the print job through browser-based, badge/card reader or PIN release depending upon how the machine is set up.

Printer Location and Document Sightlines

As the old adage proclaims, “location, location, location.” Document security can also be about the location of your printers. While it’s usually a good idea to locate your printer near your users, you should also be aware of any other eyes that may be nearby.

For instance, if a printer is located in the school’s administrative reception area, be aware that visitors could potentially view documents as they come off of the printer. An easy solution to this challenge is often used in the healthcare industry for HIPAA compliance. Printers can be fitted with document shields at the output of the machine.

In addition, when it’s time to replace your device, a Managed Print Service (MPS) provider, will ensure that decommissioned printers are swept clean of any data prior to being disposed of or recycled.

Securing your school’s print environment is crucial for FERPA compliance. That’s why it’s important to work with an experienced MPS provider, like the experts at Gordon Flesch Company. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation assessment of your print environment.  

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