4/3/20 Department of Education Secretary remarks

4/3/20 Department of Education Secretary’s full remarks and video

“My team and I are in contact daily with governors, state school chiefs, college presidents, superintendents, and local education leaders.  We are quickly responding to their needs so they can do the next right thing for their students.  Most governors have decided to close some or all schools in their states for a period of time.  As a result, students may not be able to take federal mandated standardized tests this spring….  We made the process to delay these tests for a year fast and painless (see Broad Flexibilities Provided to States to Bypass ESSA Mandated Testing for the 2019-20 School Year).  Forty-eight states and territories have already requested the waiver.  We are approving the requests within 24 hours.  [Approval letters are posted online.]

“We also released additional information making clear the expectation that education will continue for all students.  The transition to distance and online learning needs to happen quickly, and it needs to include meaningful instruction and supports for children with disabilities (see Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing Serving Children with Disabilities During National Emergency).  Learning should not stop or be denied because schools fear federal regulators or fear doing something different….  This national emergency gives all of us the opportunity to come together to engage all students out of principle.

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“We are compiling all the tools we have produced, along with the great resources states are offering to help keep learning going.  There are many existing online learning platforms, and many states were already offering a robust menu of courses virtually.  We will be adding that information to our [COVID-19 resources and information web page] on an ongoing basis.

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[…. “Let me also touch briefly on how we’re supporting students pursing higher education.  At the start of this outbreak, we immediately gave institutions of higher education regulatory flexibility so learning could go online (see Guidance for Interruptions of Study Related to Coronavirus) — and it did.  In many cases, it was a seamless transition, and learning continues.  And we are continuing to cut federal bureaucracy and let schools rise to meet this challenge.

“Mr. President, you promised to defeat this invisible enemy and to keep our economy strong.  You took immediate action and provided student loan relief to tens of millions of borrowers.  We set all federally held student loans to zero interest rates and deferred payments for 60 days (see Suspending Federal Student Loan Payments and Waiving Interest During National Emergency).  Now, with the CARES Act that you signed into law, Mr. President, those actions will extend to six months.  Those who are, or become, delinquent on their payments as a result of the national emergency will receive an automatic suspension of payments, without having to request it.  Additionally, we’ve stopped federal wage garnishments altogether for students and families in default.  And, I have asked private collection agencies that contract with the Department to stop all collections correspondence (see Stopping Wage Garnishment, Collections Actions for Borrowers).

“These are tough times, but ‘We the People’ are tougher.  So, in closing, let me offer just a few words of encourage.  To our students, your education can — and should — continue.  Learning can happen anywhere, and we will help make sure it does.  We believe in you!  To our teachers, we will support you and help you.  You are doing great work.  Keep it up!  And to every parent and family, we know these are challenging times.  But it’s in the face of great challenges that Americans have always risen to the occasion and embraced greatness.  And I know we’ll do that once again.”

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4/4/2020 Two children sue Google for allegedly collecting students’ biometric data

The lawsuit says the search giant violated privacy laws with its educational tools.

Two children from Illinois are suing Google for allegedly collecting biometric data, including face scans, of millions of students through the search giant’s software tools for classrooms.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in a federal court in San Jose, California, is seeking class-action status. The children, known only as H.K. and J.C. in the complaint, are suing through their father, Clinton Farwell.

Google is using its services to create face templates and “voiceprints” of children, the complaint says, through a program in which the search giant provides school districts across the country with Chromebooks and free access to G Suite for Education apps. Those apps include student versions of Gmail, Calendar and Google Docs.

The data collection would likely violate Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, which regulates facial recognition, fingerprinting and other biometric technologies in the state. The practice would also likely run afoul of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a federal law that requires sites to get parental consent when collecting personal information from users who are under 13 years old.

“Google has complete control over the data collection, use, and retention practices of the ‘G Suite for Education’ service, including the biometric data and other personally identifying information collected through the use of the service, and uses this control not only to secretly and unlawfully monitor and profile children, but to do so without the knowledge or consent of those children’s parents,” the lawsuit says.

Google declined to comment. Bloomberg earlier reported news of the lawsuit.

The complaint is asking for damages of $1,000 for each member of the class for BIPA violations Google committed “negligently,” or $5,000 each for each violation committed “intentionally or recklessly.”

The lawsuit underscores Google’s dominance in American classrooms, which has only grown in recent weeks. Schools are depending more on the tech giant’s educational tools as physical classes around the nation are canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As several states enact stay-at-home orders, usage of Google’s tools has skyrocketed. Downloads of Google Classroom, which helps teachers manage classes online, have swelled to 50 million, making it the No. 1 education app on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms. On Thursday, Google announced a partnership with California Gov. Gavin Newsom to donate 4,000 Chromebooks to students across the state.

The lawsuit isn’t the first time Google has drawn criticism for its classroom efforts. In February, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sued Google for allegedly violating COPPA through its educational platforms. The lawsuit accused Google of collecting information on students’ locations, their passwords, what websites they’ve visited, what they’ve searched for on Google and YouTube, their contact lists and voice recordings.

Google has also faced broader blowback for its handling of children’s data. In September, the US Federal Trade Commission slapped the company with a record $170 million fine, as well as new requirements, for YouTube‘s violation of COPPA. In response, the video site made major changes to how it treats kids videos, including limiting the data it collects from those views.