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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2018)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author
Cover, page 13 of 23


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Acceptable Use: Share with Care!

By Alauna Thornton, USD 501

“Teachers who embrace technology are going to be the future of our schools—teachers who aren’t thinking it through will cause major problems. An educator’s number-one privacy concern should be over-sharing, which always leads to endangering his or her career.” -- Charles Leitch

Leitch, a practicing attorney, advises teachers regarding the appropriate manner in which to share student information on social network sites.  He warns educators that even exceptional teachers have thought they are innocently posting images and referencing student learning on blogs, in reality, they were violating student privacy (Webroot Inc., 2018).

Should teachers and students share their images?  Should they first have the rights and legal permission to use student photos?  The technology challenge addressed in this paper is the use of student’s images and work on teacher and student digital websites. Parents, community members, students and other teachers are interested in seeing how programs work.  There are several types of school communications that shareholders can access such as the following:
  • Promotion of school happenings and news (e.g., achievements, events, etc.)
  • Time-critical school information (e.g., school closings, policies, etc.)
  • PTO (parent-teacher organization) events and other important issues
  • Leadership and education improvement ideas (e.g., parent resources)
  • School levy and community outreach (including fundraising)
  • Stories and imagery of the school’s impact on the community (cool human-interest content, alumni, photos, videos) (Williams, 2015).
The issue of using student photos is important because good communication provides opportunities for connections and building healthy communities (Hilliard & Newsome, 2013).  The school district has a communication department publicizing many of the school and district programs.  However, what options do teachers have to share images of students working and learning in their classrooms?  Teachers work at the core of student learning and with 14,000 students (TPS, 2018), in the school district the communication department is not likely to capture every valuable learning moment or program.  So, how do teachers go about sharing responsibly and what are some recommendations for sharing the learning process of students? 

Figure 1:  High School Student Chefs (photo by Alauna Thornton)

Above is an image of high school students.  They are prepared to create a culinary dish.  Is it okay to post this picture on a teacher website or even a student school website? Images are used to celebrate and share students and their work.  What are the legal and safe uses of student photos? 

Before You Upload That Student Photo, Ask:  What Would FERPA (Have Me) Do?  The Federal Family Education and Privacy Act (FERPA) allow a parent/guardian to control whether third parties outside of a school environment can see a student’s record, (EdLaw, 2016), (Wells, 2010).

Are all student images considered a record?  The students' names are not used to identify them in the photo. As a conscientious person, I would consider this picture to be a record.  PicTrieve, PimEyes, FindFace, Betaface are just a few face recognition technologies used to identify people, (Sieber, 2018).  FERPA requires that parents/guardians be given general notice that photos might be published and given an opportunity to opt out or posted with our expressed consent, (EdLaw, 2016).

What are the school and district policies?  Did the parents and students sign a consent form at enrollment?  After some correspondence with the communication director of Topeka Public Schools, I learned that the district is an opt-out district, (M. Kruger, personal communication, June 19, 2018). Simply put, parents do not sign a release form. Parents get an opt-out form from their school if they do not want their child in photos or media.  The director shared that there are guidelines about using student photos.  Student photos should not identify students with individual learning plans.  An example might be identifying Josh Smith as a student in the gifted program.  Students who are in foster care cannot be in photos.  The TPS Registrar shared that at enrollment students, parents, guardians sign a media release form that states media can be used in connection with the purposes of publicizing TPS programs, or any other lawful purpose the photos or media may be copied, exhibited or distributed, (Appendix).  So, the image of the students in their aprons and chef hats is acceptable to use on the teachers or the students' school websites in connection with the district as long as none of them are in foster care.  The TPS district has all school websites set private, and the student or teacher must share the contents via a link for viewing.  The teacher and the student can change the website sharing preferences.  

There are more concerns such as how will others use the image that is being posted on the school website. Another concern is the use of images in software programs used outside of the school districts domain.  Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, PhotoCirlce, Remind 101, Animoto, Voxer, ThreeRing, SeeSaw, Flipgrid are just a few platforms that can promote learning and school programs.  Educators need to consider what others might use the images for once they view them.  

One teacher decided to post a picture, and within 24 hours she was liked 7,000 times and shared 400 times on Facebook and then after it made it on Reddit people started to manipulate the image. Part of her message changed from talking about internet safety to a 5th grader to talking about hardcore porn to a 5th grader (Fogarty, 2013).

Figure 2:  Re-edited Photos for Different Messaging 

Photographers know that in general what can be seen in public view can be photographed without legal repercussions but what is in private places requires consent, (Reporters Committee, 2007).  Teachers are reports of what is being learned in the classroom, so they should share with care.  

What would make understanding the use of images better is if teachers could easily access the school and district policies so that they are clear about their responsibility to protect the privacy and safety of their students while in their care.   An Action step is to have annual professional development regarding what the laws and district policies. 

Another action step is to have the policy posted on the district and school websites.  Professional development on how to use and implement tools that capture the learning in classrooms is a necessary process if districts desire teachers to be innovated with the learning process. can and should be used to find reliable tools for posting and sharing images of learning.  Flipgrid is one example of a reliable source recommended by (Kievlan, 2017).  Moreover, finally, all shareholders need to know that images used on the Internet are used for teaching and learning purposes and are to meet ethical policies set in place by the district (Wells, 2010).

Figure 3:  Flipgrid


Figure 4:  Leading Learners Media Release Form (Topeka Public Schools)


EdLaw. (2016, May 5). Before You Upload That Student Photo, Ask: What Would FERPA (Have Me) Do? Retrieved from Education Law Insights:

Fogarty, L. (2013, November 27). Teacher's Photo Goes Viral In Brilliant Lesson on the Dangers of Postion Online. Retrieved from CafeMom:

Hilliard, A. T., & Newsome, E. (2013). Effective Communication and Creating Professional Learning Communities Is A Valuable Practice For Superintendents. Contemporary Issues In Education Research, 6(4).

Kievlan, p. (2017, February). Review by Patricia monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education. Retrieved from Common Sense Education:

Reporters Committee . (2007). Photographers Guide to Privacy. Retrieved from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

Sieber, T. (2018, January 26). 3 Fascinating Search Engines That Search for Faces. Retrieved from makeusof:

TPS. (2018). About Topeka Public Schools. Retrieved from Topeka Public School: Engage! Prepare! Inspire!:

Webroot Inc. (2018). Social Media in the Classroom: The Digital Safety Debate (Part 3 of 3). Retrieved from Webroot Smarter Cybersecurity:

Wells, C. (2010). Smarter Clicking School Technology Policies That Work! United States of America: Corwin, American Association of School Administrations, National Association of Secondary School.

Williams, S. (2015, October 26). 6 key school communication channels and how to use them. Retrieved from Campus suite:

About the Author 

Alauna Thornton is a KU doctoral student in the Educational Leadership Policy Studies (ELPS) program focused on Education Technology and completed the educational leadership master program with Kansas State University, June 2018.   In 2010, she attained an M.S. in Business Education from Emporia State University, and in 2008, a Teacher's License from Baker University. In 2008, she started teaching math in Topeka Public Schools and moved onto business technology, 2009, and family consumer science courses, 2010.  

Alauna has presented at several conferences such as the Kansans CAN, K-ACTE, NETA, and SIDLIT as well as provided consulting and professional development for Topeka Public Schools (TPS) and Wamego School District. She will be working in Olathe Public Schools starting 2018 and finishing up her research and dissertation at KU in 2019.  

Outside of work, she enjoys taking long walks with her Blue Heeler and taking care of her 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. She has fun traveling and snow skiing with her husband of 22 years and 10-year-old daughter. Most importantly, she is delighted to learn and collaborate with the curious. 
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