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How Texas School Districts Can Achieve SCOPE Act Compliance

by iSphere on May 17, 2024 in Blog, Education Sector Content, Education Technology Solutions

Texas parents may have been able to breathe a sigh of relief after the passage of Texas House Bill 18 last year, but school districts have spent the following months trying to catch their breath.

Yes, administrators and teachers were happy the Securing Children Online through Parental Empowerment (SCOPE) Act ordered digital service providers to help protect students from harmful, deceptive, or unfair trade practices. However, amendments to the bill created obligations for use and transfer of electronic devices to students by public schools, ones you must meet ASAP.

Though change comes slowly in the education sector, independent school districts and charter schools need to accelerate their compliance with this legislation. Here’s what you need to know about the SCOPE Act and how using the right education technology solution partner can simplify your transition.

How Does the SCOPE Act Apply to Public Schools?

Digging into the meat of the SCOPE Act, the primary concern of legislators is with the duties and prohibitions of digital service providers (a person who owns or operates a digital service and determines the purpose of collecting and processing user personal identifying information (PII)). Much of the focus is on social media platforms ranging from 4Chan and Discord to X (Twitter), TikTok, and YouTube, but the rule can apply to any platform that allows students to interact socially.

Additionally, there is a fair amount of language limiting digital service providers from collecting, disclosing, or selling PII, as well as prohibiting them from allowing known minors to engage in financial transactions.

How does this impact school districts? Amendments to the law prior to bicameral approval expanded the role public schools and charters have in protecting students’ PII. Here’s what you’re expected to do:

  • Minimize data collection conducted on students through electronic devices and software applications.
  • Ensure direct and informed parental consent is required for a student’s use of a software application necessary for the administration of academic skills as well as college, career, or military readiness assessments.
  • Ensure software applications do not conduct mental health assessments or other assessments unrelated to educational curricula that are intended to collect information about students without direct and informed parental consent.
  • Ensure that parents are provided the resources necessary to understand cybersecurity risks and online safety regarding their child’s use of electronic devices before the child uses an electronic device at the child’s school.
  • Specify periods of time during which an electronic device transferred to a student must be deactivated in the interest of student safety.
  • Consider necessary adjustments by age level to the use of electronic devices in the classroom to foster development of students’ abilities regarding spending school time and completing assignments without the use of an electronic device.
  • Consider appropriate restrictions on student access to social media websites or applications with an electronic device transferred to a student by a district or school.
  • Require a district or school, before using a social media application for an educational purpose, to determine that an alternative application that is more secure and provides the same educational functionality as the social media application is unavailable for that educational purpose.
  • Consider the required use of an Internet filter capable of notifying appropriate school administrators, who are then required to notify the student’s parent, if a student accesses inappropriate or concerning content or words, including content related self-harm, suicide, violence to others, or illicit drugs.
  • Assign to the appropriate officer of a district or school the duty to receive complaints or concerns regarding student use of electronic devices, including cybersecurity and online safety concerns, from district or school staff, other students, or parents.

Some of that overlaps with existing laws (The Student Privacy Act comes to mind), but administrators need to verify there are no gaps in their safeguards. Written across HB 18 is a mandate for security, transparency, and accountability when it comes to the applications, platforms, and devices used by students and on school premises. Since these obligations apply retroactively, districts are sitting on an active hazard, one that might only get worse if they take steps to keep students safe.

How You Can Adapt to Texas House Bill 18

The full spectrum of the potential impact cannot be overstated. School districts may need to reevaluate a wide range of applications, devices, and network hardware to achieve compliance with the SCOPE Act. Here are a few actions you can take to get up to speed.

For starters, districts need to run comprehensive IT assessments to verify the security, transparency, and data practices maintained across application vendors. That applies not only to authorized learning platforms, but rogue implementations teachers or unapproved social platforms students are using without your permission.

All trustworthy vendors should be able to articulate their data and cybersecurity practices.

  • What data are they collecting?
  • How is user data leveraged?
  • Who can access the data and how do they prevent privilege creep?
  • How do they store and secure data?
  • Have they reported any data breaches within the last five years?

The challenge is in evaluating all potential application and device vendors and weighing their security posture and data hygiene against their competitors. In all cases, school districts will be expected to choose the most secure platform or risk noncompliance penalties, so reputable vendors will acclimate with the shift.

Schools also need to refine their K-12 cybersecurity best practices and protocols. Internet filters need to evolve, adding to their list of slang, intentional misspellings, hashtags, or identifiable homoglyphs to prevent bullying, harassment, illicit activity, or other prohibited materials across social platforms. Whether this means selecting proactive vendors or actively updating homegrown filtering apps, your school district is responsible for staying current with student lingo and culture.

Lastly, your district needs to implement workflows that streamline these processes. Creating automations that notify administrators when students are accessing inappropriate or concerning content will be key for keeping parents informed about the safety of their children. You’re the front line protecting students and you’ll need proactive systems to make that job easier.

DBITS Vendors Can Make Your Transition Quick and Cost-Effective

School districts likely have a substantial amount of work ahead of them. Some might only need to conduct an audit to verify their software evaluations and web filtering adequately reduced their risk. Others will need to abandon legacy systems in favor of new platforms, doing their digital transformation work over again to stay compliant.

Working with Deliverables-Based IT Services (DBITS) approved vendors throughout this process will be vital to keeping expenses low and outcomes high. Organizations that have earned this distinction from the DIR have proven they can deliver new applications, systems upgrades, and IT assessments at competitive rates.

So, if you want to keep your district or charter school from violating the SCOPE Act, it’s time to turn to a DBITS approved vendor like iSphere. By protecting you, we’ll help you protect students.

Want to see if you’re SCOPE Act compliant? Reach out to the iSphere team and we can get your IT assessment started.

 

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