Unapproved District Technology

Greetings SCESD Staff,

In regards to connecting an Alexa device or any other similar type of device to our school network. As this has become a common request from teachers. Unfortunately, we cannot connect an Alexa, or other digital assistants, to our network, as it violates both FERPA, COPPA, and CIPA laws protecting student privacy and compliance issues.  Even Amazon says that the devices should not be used in the classroom, stating "that Alexa and the Dot were not intended for the classroom as the devices pose compliance and privacy issues." This is mainly due to the recording of voices.

While at this time voice assistants do not comply with the laws noted below, the tech industry knows the value of introducing its devices to children at young ages.  Thus, there is an incentive for these companies to determine ways to make these devices FERPA, COPPA, and CIPA compliant so that they can be adapted for school use.  Our school districts will continue to monitor and review these developments and will update our policy accordingly.

Brian Hays

Below is a brief explanation of these compliance issues

FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99

FERPA protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to schools that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education.  In most cases, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. In addition, FERPA prohibits a company that receives educational records to use the records for a purpose other than the reason it is being disclosed. This law was written in 1974 with no significant revisions since then and obviously was not written when voice activation devices existed or even were imagined.

In certain circumstances, a recording of a student’s voice may constitute an education record under FERPA as well as a pupil record under the companion Wisconsin law, Wis. Stat. § 118.125. As such, the District is required to have a parent’s permission to release this information to the companies operating the devices.  But even if parent permission were able to be obtained, both Amazon and Google have made clear that the data stored from the use of their devices are used for various purposes, including marketing to users.  Such action is prohibited, making such devices unable to be used in classrooms.

COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act),15 U.S.C. §§ 6501–6505

COPPA gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their children. COPPA requires a website company to provide parental notification and obtain parental permission before they can allow a child under the age of 13 to register for an account with them and collect any of their personally identifiable information. COPPA explicitly treats “voice” as personally identifiable information.

If a device is not intended for classroom use and could be used for a “commercial purpose,” the device can be used to collect data for advertisements and to be used for purchasing a product.  The Amazon and Google devices were not intended for classroom use.  COPPA requires that in order to use such a device with students under the age of 13, parent permission is required.

CIPA (Children’s Internet Privacy Act) **,**47 U.S.C. § 254

CIPA addresses concerns about children's access to obscene or harmful content over the Internet at schools and libraries and imposes requirements on schools or libraries that receive E-rate funds to ensure that children are not accessing prohibited content. Schools cannot receive E-rate funding unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures that must block or filter Internet access and include monitoring of the online activities of minors.

Voice assistants require that the device be connected through Wifi to the internet.  At this time, there is no way to monitor and filter student use of the devices when connected to a school district’s Wifi. As a result, it is possible that student use of a voice activation device could result in access to content prohibited by CIPA.  When a school district applies for E-rate funding, it must certify that it has measures in place to be CIPA compliant.  The use of such devices would bring a school district out of compliance with CIPA which could result in a loss of E-rate funding.

Created by Robert Ocampo, on 8/18/2022