The Shortcut to Successful FERPA compliance

  • Posted On: 27th December 2018
  • By:
The Shortcut to Successful FERPA compliance

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) compliance mistakes are expensive. What does that look like in practice?

  • Assuming FERPA compliance is commonplace knowledge: Don’t assume that FERPA issues are covered in teacher education programs or that all administrative staff members know their obligations.
  • Weak access controls over FERPA records: Poor access controls might have been excusable in the past. Today, that’s no longer the case. You need to develop a systematic approach to access.
  • Failure to fulfill inspection requirements: If you’re unable to provide FERPA records upon request to eligible students, you’ve failed. Efficient information management matters in FERPA.
  • Loose definitions of key FERPA terms: Like it or not, FERPA allows for some discretion in compliance. That means it’s up to impacted institutions to define and govern roles such as “school official.”
  • An incomplete inventory of student data: If you’re like most schools, you probably have more than one database that contains student data. You need to have strong FERPA governance in place for all student data, not just the data in the primary database.
  • Reliance upon manual processes: Unless you’re a tiny organization, a manual approach is unworkable. You’re just begging for a compliance requirement or record to be missed on a busy school day.

First, Discover Your FERPA Compliance Levels

Leaping into action before you confirm your current situation doesn’t make sense. You’re likely to waste time and money on tactics that won’t make a difference. Instead, you need to first find out where you are. It’s like setting off on a road trip; your GPS can’t provide directions until it knows your current location.

Tip: To assess a single school, plan to conduct this assessment over the course of a few days. If you’re assessing a school district or a large organization, you’ll need more support to do the assessment.

  • Assess management: Question the school’s management to determine whether they understand the basics of FERPA compliance.
  • Assess front-line staff: Choose a random selection of teachers, librarians, and other staff to interview. Alternatively, you may want to consider a short survey sent by email.
  • Review IT systems and staff: IT has a crucial role to play in supporting FERPA. For the best results, spend at least half of your assessment effort on IT processes.
  • Review recent FERPA complaints and issues: Few schools have a perfect record with FERPA; mistakes will happen. What’s more important is that you have a follow-up process to learn from these issues and improve.
  • Assess remaining FERPA compliance gaps: In a few cases, you might be able to coach an employee to improve and close an issue. In other situations, a systematic weakness calls for a more through improvement.

What can you do if you find deep problems? You need to leverage the right technology, and that’s where Avatier comes in.

How to Improve FERPA Compliance with Avatier

Some teachers are used to having “universal access.” They like the ability to check in on past students and see who might be coming to their classroom next year. Unfortunately, these habits are going to land you in hot water with FERPA. Satisfying your curiosity about Jimmy’s math skills after Jimmy has left your class isn’t going to look good on a FERPA compliance memo.

Changing these old teacher habits takes work. Fortunately, you can use one shortcut: cybersecurity software solutions. Here are some ideas that can save you time and help you avoid compliance headaches.

  • Standardize access based on roles: Do you spend hours every semester setting up new teachers and assistants with accounts? Those days are over. Use Group Enforcer for set it and forget it access at the group level.
  • Save time on passwords: Mandating strong passwords comes with a trade-off, as users are more likely to forget their passwords. You can address this concern by providing a self-serve password reset.
  • Keep perfect access change records: If and when you face a FERPA investigation, records matter! If you can prove when and how access privileges were managed, that shows you have a professional organization. Audit logs and changes are automatically tracked when you use Avatier.

If you run a large institution, you may need even more tools and support to address FERPA. We have an idea to cover you: use containers.

Leveraging Docker Containers to Improve FERPA Compliance

Efficiency and management oversight are essential components of a successful FERPA compliance program. There’s just one problem with that approach: it takes time to carry out proper oversight. Inspecting your critical servers regularly for security flaws is an important task, and it’s not one to rush.

What’s the solution? You need to find reliable ways to improve IT productivity. We recommend using containers as a way to save time. Containers save time by eliminating configuration problems on new servers. Since containers make it easier to standardize configuration, you also get improved security as a result.

Let’s say you save five hours per week of work effort by adopting containers. What could you do with that extra time to improve FERPA compliance? Check out these possibilities:

  • Eliminate inactive user accounts: Getting rid of this type of account is an easy win in security. You just need the time to make it happen.
  • Improve employee password training: What happens when you don’t provide training? Your employees are going to reuse their personal passwords at work. Regularly delivering cybersecurity best practices training is one way to stop that unsafe practice.
  • Review third-party user activity: Do third parties such as consultants and developers use your platform and software? If so, we recommend spending some time to educate these stakeholders on your cybersecurity practices.

Suppose you need help winning support to bring container technology to your organization. We have got you covered there. Check out our article: Improve Developer Productivity Using Containers: The Two-part Strategy.

Written by Avatier