CPS teachers ‘blinded’ after removal of access to popular classroom software due to new student privacy law


In recent years, online privacy advocates have pushed Illinois lawmakers to force school districts to protect student data – but some Chicago public school teachers say they have been “blinded” by the law enforcement by the district that led them to lose access to key programs used to teach thousands of people. students.

Governor JB Pritzker signed amendments to the Online Student Personal Protection Act in 2019, strengthening the law that governs how local and state authorities handle student data and giving parents greater control over information personal information of their children.

School systems had until July of this year to come into compliance. The changes have prompted suburban and lower-state schools to rethink their contracts with software companies to protect student data while finding new ways to give children and educators access to the apps they are using. they know and what they need for school.

But at the CPS, the way the authorities enforced the law meant that popular teaching aids were taken from thousands of students and forced teachers to reinvent their curricula.

“We are depriving hundreds of thousands of students of proven, often free resources,” said Jeff Solin, who teaches computer science at Lane Tech High School.

Among the software products that break the law, according to CPS, there are programs like Code.org, which is widely used in computer science courses, and Adobe applications used for artistic design and newspaper layout. This left has many high school newspapers unable to produce their print editions.

Scratch, software for creating interactive stores, animations and games, is also prohibited. CPS had partnered with the Scratch Foundation to host family coding nights, among other events.

Cassie Creswell, director of the education advocacy group, Illinois Families for Public Schools, helped draft the new data privacy law. But Creswell is concerned about how the CPS has interpreted the law.

Creswell said the district’s strict interpretation of the law has resulted in an “onerous” contracting process for sellers.

Other districts in the state have expanded their SOPPA compliance contracts by joining the Illinois Student Privacy Alliance, which provides access to existing contracts with vendors, Creswell said. As a result, students in other Illinois districts can use software that CPS students can no longer use.

Without access to the CPS, teachers said they are now scrambling to rethink the curricula after they were not sufficiently briefed on the impact the student privacy law could have on the software they are working on. they can use.

A district spokesperson told The Sun-Times that although students have temporarily lost access to some software, CPS “is working with these vendors to find a solution to restore these services that help improve the CPS experience.” .

The Chicago Computer Science Teachers Association is now asking the district to review current data privacy policies. Brannon said she would like to see the district involve educators in the SOPPA compliance process.

“We feel like we have been taken aback. We weren’t thinking beyond belief that the program we were relying on would be withdrawn without much warning, ”said Faythe Brannon, president of the Chicago Computer Science Teachers Association. “It feels like we’re going to bypass our students because we’re not as prepared as we could be. ”

Solin teaches microarchitecture, a computer engineering course, at Lane Tech and he is still unsure whether students are allowed to use the software the course is based on.

“I’m very likely to not be able to use it and my whole program is based on that,” Solin said. “I have spent hundreds of hours developing my curriculum, repeating my curriculum, finding out what works and what doesn’t. … Part of me just doesn’t want to reach out because I’m scared to know what the answer is.

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