JCPS updates behavior handbook to include consent for digital backpack


Reece Gunther

Jefferson County Public Schools recently updated their Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook for the 2019-20 school year. Manual students received the handbook on August 16.

While many updates were made to the handbook, the second page features a new addition to the acknowledgment of receipt which asks parents to “grant permission for my child to access the Internet, electronic mail, and the JCPS Backpack of Success Skills — including all related Google Suite for Education services — through the JCPS Network, and I have conveyed to my
child the standards outlined on page 43.”

Manual RedEye previously reported that the JCPS Backpack of Success skills may violate digital privacy laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

These two laws required the district to gain parental consent if they were requiring students to use online resources, like the Backpack.

The investigation uncovered that JCPS consented to Google, on behalf of parents, for the collection of personal information including addresses, phone numbers, location and other digital tracking information.

While the change wasn’t publicized to JCPS families, it was acknowledged by the district after questioning, however, they provided no specific reasoning pertaining to this change and did not mention whether or not the Manual RedEye story had influence over the decision.

“We had several updates in our SSBIH this year and this was one of them,” JCPS spokesperson Renee Murphy said. “The language in the SSBIH was updated to provide additional transparency and further communication with our families.”

Piper Hansen, now studying journalism at Arizona State University and the author of the investigation article said that this change was “the first step of many JCPS will need to take in becoming transparent with students and their families” but noted that it doesn’t go far enough.

“Just having the name of the Backpack of Success Skills in the SSBIH without much context or additional information in a handbook they cannot guarantee people read through is not enough. Parents still need to know more details about information and data their children are giving up when they login to finish their portfolio, make a simple change or use their account to do school assignments, research or browse the internet. I don’t think that the change acknowledges all of the things that the investigation brought forward,” Hansen said. “The SSBIH now requires parents to consent for their student to use the Backpack of Success Skills but it doesn’t go into detail about why the change was made, why it was necessary or what it will mean going forward.”

Further, Hansen reiterated a quote from Sophia Cope, an attorney from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stating that “schools and technology companies shouldn’t view privacy laws as mere inconveniences to work around.”

Hansen emphasized the district’s role to keep parents and the community informed about happenings within their children’s schools to provide ultimate transparency.

Although this was one of many changes made to the handbook that all JCPS students receive each year, the district expects the backpack to become more accustomed with students and families as it ages.