Minnesota lawmakers weigh student data protections

The policies aim to protect the data privacy of K-12 students, including those attending college as PSEO students.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, asks questions about the proposed bill on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the State Office Building.

Jack Rodgers

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, asks questions about the proposed bill on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the State Office Building.

Michael Achterling

Minnesota lawmakers are considering policies that would protect the data of K-12 students. 

On Tuesday, members of the Legislative Commission on Data Practices conducted a detailed overview of two pieces of legislation that would protect the private information of K-12 students. The House and Senate bills are designed to ensure privacy protections and update current laws some lawmakers say are outdated. 

Legislators organized the hearing to get feedback on the legislation before introducing it during session in February. 

The bills would require student data privacy training for school staff. Schools or third-party software manufacturers would also be required to seek opt-in agreements from students and parents to share their data.

Students over the age of 18 would not be included in either piece of legislation, but postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO) students would be.

“Everybody should have some sort of privacy, especially with [electronic] devices,” said Ensar Smailagic, a Blaine High School senior and University of Minnesota PSEO student.

Smailagic received a Google Chromebook from his high school that he uses for school work.

The House bill also limits the ability of school and law enforcement officials to use tracking technology for district-owned devices unless the device is stolen, a warrant is granted or law enforcement deems an imminent threat to life or safety.

“It’s a really important discussion to have because we are only going to move toward a more and more digital world,” said Joseph Kebbekus, current University freshman and former University of Minnesota Duluth PSEO student from Duluth East High School. “Lawmakers should do everything they can to protect online data, and online privacy.” 

Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, author of the House bill, said this is an important step toward addressing the state’s aging data privacy regulations.

“For student data privacy, ensuring protections and proper security over private information is important in all contexts,” Lucero said. 

The Senate bill, authored by Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, prohibits the use of student data for targeted advertising and limits the ability to gather, use or share information created by the student’s online educational profile.

“We need to make sure that our 20th century laws are brought into 21st century technology,” Kent said. “Any time you start talking about data practices, it can get a little overwhelming.”

The chair of the Legislative Commission on Data Practices, Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, hopes the in-depth commission overview will prepare the bills for the upcoming legislative session.

“I really want to get the ball rolling on this issue,” Scott said. “I feel like it’s been put off for too many years.”