Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights

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The chief privacy officer in the U.S. Education Department was reassigned and replaced on an interim basis as part of a broader reorganization that could have big implications for how the federal government supports schools and districts in protecting student privacy.

Kathleen Styles, a lawyer licensed to practice in Texas and the District of Columbia, has filled the department's chief privacy officer role since it was created in 2011. Effective April 1, she will be replaced by the department's current deputy chief privacy officer, Angela Arrington, a computer scientist and long-time veteran of the department.

The office of the chief privacy officer is responsible for functions including administering two of the country's major federal student-privacy laws, developing the Education Department's privacy-related policies and guidance, and providing technical assistance to help education entities navigate student-privacy issues.

Under Styles, the office has expanded the scope of the department's Privacy Technical Assistance Center, issuing guidance and best-practices documents on a wide range of privacy-related issues, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as FERPA.

Vowing Continuity

During a public appearance last week at the annual conference of the Consortium for School Networking in Washington, the department's director of student privacy policy, Michael Hawes, said the agency's work will continue unimpeded as the current shakeup unfolds. Parents who believe their rights have been violated under FERPA can continue to file complaints with the department's privacy compliance office, and the department's Privacy Technical Assistance Center has not stopped accepting requests for help from schools and vendors.

Beyond the personnel shuffle, a larger reorganization is apparently underway.

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In a statement, Elizabeth Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the Family Policy Compliance Office, which is currently part of the office of the chief privacy officer, "will enforce FERPA compliance and provide technical assistance as required by statute."

Some privacy advocates, however, have expressed concern about the potential implications of such a shift.

Vol. 37, Issue 24, Page 20

Published in Print: March 21, 2018, as Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
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