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Distance Learning

FAQ: Distance learning, data privacy, records and recording

Disclaimer: This publication is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for specific legal or other professional advice. If you have specific questions about your legal or contractual rights, contact your local association or UniServ director.

1. Which laws govern the privacy of student data that may be captured or shared in the course of distance learning?

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student education records. Similarly, §4-313 of the General Provisions Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland protects the privacy of student records, including “home address, home telephone number, biography, family, physiology, religion, academic achievement, or physical or mental ability of a student.” Both laws prohibit the disclosure of student education records/education data to third parties without the written consent of a minor student’s parent or guardian.


Every effort should be made to keep student information confidential and out of the hands of other members of an educator’s household.  Student records in an educator’s home should be stored in such a manner as to limit access to them by your family.

2. What constitutes an educational record subject to FERPA?


Educational records subject to FERPA include photos or videos that are directly related to a student, meaning the student is the focus of the video (for example, it shows them being injured, having a health emergency, contains their personally identifiable information, or depicts an act they are disciplined for) and does not include videos where the student is incidentally captured or shows the student participating in school activities open to the public and without a specific focus on any individual. FERPA, generally, allows teachers to disclose a student’s name, photograph, and other directory information during class in which the student is enrolled without parental consent absent a specific parental request to the contrary.


It is likely that mandated recording of all classroom instruction would capture videos directly related to students and at least portions of video would qualify as an educational record, requiring prior written consent before disclosure to others.


Finally, under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), consent of a parent or guardian would be required for children under 13 to use third party platforms, such as Zoom or Google Classrooms, where that platform collects the personal information of those using it.


  1. Is it a FERPA violation if parents view or listen to real-time instruction of students in my class (not recorded)?

    Not necessarily. Neither federal nor state law necessarily prohibits a parent from accessing a classroom to observe their child because this information is not considered an education record or educational data. Therefore, parents may similarly observe a classroom setting that is occurring via distance learning; however, parents should notify the teacher that they are observing a lesson (s).


  1. Are the data privacy requirements different for students with IEPs or special needs? What additional steps should be taken for these students?

    Allowing parents to have access to real-time video or audio of students receiving special education services will not violate FERPA, but the names of students who receive these services are considered private student education records/education data. For this reason, schools and educators should take precautions to ensure that these names are not available to other students or parents without the prior consent of parents or guardians.


If the video platform utilized to provide services could contain or reveal personally identifiable information of students, then the school system should evaluate the platform to ensure that it incorporates security measures to encrypt private data so that it may not be accessed by individuals who do not have authority to access the data. Alternatively, the schools may address privacy concerns by informing parents about the proposed services and the platform for delivery and seek parental consent.

As always, educators, especially special educators, should incorporate any additional requirements recommended by administration.

  1. Can my school system require me to use security protocols that are not legally required?

    Yes. School systems have the right to create and require educators to follow security protocols greater than what state or federal law requires. However, these protocols should be clearly established, consistently enforced, and available electronically for staff to review. The benefits of these additional requirements should also be balanced against ease of access for students, parents, and educators.

    6. My school system requires that all lessons for distance learning be recorded so students may access them later. Can they do this? Does this raise any legal concerns?

    School systems vary on this point, and we recommend following all applicable board of education policies and administrator directives you receive. Some school systems require recording so students with limited access to internet or technology may access them at a later time. Other school systems are discouraging or prohibiting educators from maintaining any recordings of their classes whatsoever. School systems have the authority to make these decisions, but the expectations should be clearly communicated and the necessary student and parent releases secured.


Specifically, with a recording of a virtual classroom, there are not only FERPA concerns, but also Maryland’s wiretapping law is implicated. Specifically, it is unlawful to record someone’s communications without their consent. Maryland is a two-party consent state, which requires all parties to the communication to consent to its recording. As such, recording of a virtual classroom requires the school system to secure appropriate releases from students and parents.

While real-time video of an entire classroom or group of students is not automatically subject to FERPA, video or audio recordings may be considered private student education records/education data if they are “directly related to a student,” meaning they are focused on one particular student giving a presentation. For these reasons, any recorded lessons that include students may ultimately be classified as a record protected by FERPA. Under FERPA, a parent must give written consent before a school may disclose “personally identifiable information” from student records.

7. What distance learning platform should I use?

We strongly recommend that educators not make the decision regarding which platform to utilize independently, but rather in collaboration with their department, grade-level team, and/or their administration.

  1. What are the best ways to avoid issues with virtual learning?


Follow administrative directives and school policies specific to virtual learning and confirm concerns or questions in writing with school administration.


Seek consent prior to recording lessons. Teaching staff should not engage in the creation of “education records” which contain any personally identifiable information via video-recording unless consent has been acquired from every single parent/guardian/eligible student involved. The school system must be responsible for getting all such consent, and unless and until they do they should not expect educators to record their classes, and they should certainly not expect any student to appear on the video.


Valid written consent must:

  • Specify the records that may be disclosed;
  • State the purpose of the disclosure; and
  • Identify the party or class of parties to whom the disclosure may be made.


The school system must have written consent from any and every parent/guardian/eligible student who will be involved in any such recording, even if such recording is only for the purposes of the remote learning of other students.


There may be school systems that fail and/or refuse to secure such authorizations. Although the publication of video showing students being instructed could create FERPA exposure for the school systems (FERPA does not permit a student’s parent to sue a teacher personally in the event of a FERPA violation as such action may only be taken against a school), administrators and teaching staff would be indemnified so long as the directive to record is clearly mandated by the system.


In the event that releases are secured, local association representatives should demand to negotiate over the manner in which the videos are stored, length of time of storage, access to the video, and limited use of the video (i.e. may not be used for evaluative purposes).


  1. I am concerned about videos of my classes being shared on the internet or social media without my permission, or being seen by people who are not my students or their parents/guardians. What can I do to prevent this? 

    As is the case in your classroom, your school system may not be able to completely safeguard you from having your image or your instructional materials shared beyond their intended audience. At the same time, school systems can and should support educators’ legitimate privacy concerns by prohibiting the unauthorized recording and/or dissemination of videos, images, or other data captured in the course of distance learning.

We recommend that boards of education create a written agreement for students (and/or parents/guardians, depending on age) to sign or click, containing the following language or something similar:

The following content is for educational purposes only. By accessing this material, I agree not to share this content with anyone not enrolled in the class or assisting an enrolled student. Unauthorized distribution of any distance learning content, including sharing video recordings or screenshots on the internet or social media, is strictly prohibited and could result in disciplinary action and/or the suspension of a student’s access to certain distance learning materials.

School systems have an obligation to take reasonable measures to protect the privacy of students and staff. As with board of education policies prohibiting recordings in the classroom, this type of notice will make it easier for the administration to justify disciplinary action or other consequences for a student or parent/guardian who records or shares distance learning content without an educator’s permission.

10. What should I do if I learn that my lessons or image have been shared without my permission?

If possible, take screenshots or document the unauthorized sharing of this content as soon as possible and provide it to your administrator. Once you have done this, contact the company where the content has been shared. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have ways of reporting inappropriate or abusive content so that it can be investigated and removed if it violates the company’s terms of use.

School systems vary in how they respond to these incidents based on the severity of the conduct and the policies they have in place. If you believe your administration has not responded to unauthorized use of your content appropriately, contact your local association or the UniServ Director for assistance.


  1. Can my administrator require that I teach in real time instead of having pre-recorded lessons available for students to download? 

    Yes. While there is no particular guidance that has been issued by MSDE regarding the format for distance learning, the local board of education continues to possess the statutory authority to determine the method, the format, and the daily schedule of its employees so long as it complies with the work hours provided in the collective bargaining agreement.

Educators will likely not be able to provide the same type of interaction with and between students through distance learning that they can provide in a classroom, but school systems can expect educators to have ongoing interactions that include opportunities for students to ask questions and receive real-time feedback.

  1. Are any notes or records that I create in the course of distance learning off limits to parents? What should I do with these records when I am done with them?

    Yes. Records that you independently keep on students, which you do not share with anyone else, are considered “desk drawer notes” rather than government data and not accessible as part of a data request under the Public Information Act. Inasmuch, when you no longer have a student in your class any associated “desk drawer notes” should be destroyed. All other information likely becomes part of the student’s educational record, i.e. discipline, grades, attendance, etc.





The COVID-19 Emergency Shutdown Continues-Public Schools Closed until May 15th.

Due to the COVID-19 virus, the State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon extended the School Closure until May 15, 2020. Over the last several weeks, COVID-19 cases have continued to climb statewide with the largest number right here in Prince George’s County. In that light, the decision to extend the statewide school closures is understandable for everyone’s safety.


PGCPS CEO Dr. Monica Goldson has scheduled a series of PGCPS Town Halls for this week. Please share with students, fellow employees, and Parents.

Tuesday, April 21 — Students (held with Student Member of the Board Joshua Omolola)

Thursday, April 23 — Employees

Wednesday, April 29 — Family and community

All town halls will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. We will provide dial-in information for the town halls as it is available on our PGCEA Website, email, and social media.

Our PGCEA Distance Learning Team met again with Dr. Coley, Dr. Libby, Dr. White, and Dr. Mason on Friday April 16. The Team shared concerns we received through our, from emails to UNIServs and calls from members.



Distance Learning Highlights included the following:


If you need additional professional development on software offering, the recorded technology videos can be found at the link below. Once the link is clicked there is a button at the top right of the screen that says "Connecting with Students". Click the button and all the videos are listed by topic. Click here for the Remote Teachers Toolkit. PGCPS also has a Distance Learning Page on the website but the Teacher/ School Staff Distance Learning Guide is available click here. The latter is the living breathing document.

If you need your password reset or are having other technical issues with your equipment email or call 301-386-1549. It is better to email as opposed to calling. If your laptop is at your school, contact your principal asap.


Google Classroom Access

There has been a request for educators to give access to your Google Classroom to Administration. Please cooperate as the system has the right to access. You can give the student codes to prevent changes to your classrooms. We were assured that Administrators will not be making critical comments in chat messages as students can see them. There are many software offerings that you may use that have been presented. It is up to you as the professional educator to decide what is best for you, your students and their families. You do not have to do live lessons. You may record lessons or use any of the approved offerings. If you have questions ask, your principal. You also do not need to be live on Zoom from 9-1. You have to be available.

The PPW’s were not in the original plan. Their roles were shared with principals and Dr. Mason agreed to meet with PPW’s to discuss their plan.

Translation services are available using language links. Language links wait times are very long and you have to call back each time. The system is aware.

The duty day is 9-1 pm. Be advised, according to Negotiated Agreement, there is one staff meeting per month and one back to school night. Please remember that this is an emergency and there may be emergency meetings. A meeting everyday after 1 is not an emergency meeting.

Individualized Continued Learning Plans. The ICLP’s are not IEP’s. Special Educators should continue to attempt to reach parents. Three attempts is sufficient. After three attempts send names of student s to your SPED Coordinator for instructions.

Is musical instrument pickup available? Not at this time

We will continue to meet weekly and submit questions in advance that we have been receiving from members. The written responses to questions submitted to the CEO and her staff and their responses are available on our Corona Virus/Page on our website


Other Highlights are as follows:

  • Pay will continue uninterrupted. You will be paid during the closure according to negotiated agreement and after the closure, we return to negotiated payrolls. You should see no change in salary or benefits. Each case of issues with leave will be handled on a case by case basis.
  • Distance Learning begins April 14. Chromebook distribution began last Wednesday. The system is assisting families with internet service
  • All staff should have their laptops at home. If you do not have internet at your primary residence we are negotiations with Verizon to see what further services are available. They do offer a lower priced option for educators during the shutdown. Here is the link. We are working on Comcast
  • All unit one members are expected to be available from 9 AM- 1 PM.
  • Professional Development If you were unable to sign up for a Professional Development Class or were kicked out of one, please alert your supervisor. Professional Development will be ongoing over the coming weeks.
  • Evaluations Evaluations are on hold until the state makes a decision. It is advised that if you have your necessary observations completed that you should complete your 4E to complete your responsibility. This is to keep you form being on cycle again next year.
  • A joint PGCEA and PGCPS team met on Friday April 17 to discuss the impact and issues members are experiencing.
  • Technology support is available from the Help Desk for passwords and issues with your laptop. Email call (301)386-1549. Email is best to avoid long phone waits.
  • The Employee Services Center is a centralized single point of contact and resource for employees, retirees, former employees, and stakeholders who have inquiries regarding their employment needs or need assistance with accessing employment related information.


Modified 2019-20 School Calendar

  • May 15thProposed School Closure ends
  • June 2nd: Primary Election – Schools are closed should there be a primary election. If paper is ballots is elected, then there will be a school day for students.
  • June 9th: Last day for students
  • June 11th:last day for 10 month employees

*May receive a waiver for March 16-27th (no charging of SLB days)

The past two weeks-Work from students for the last two weeks should not be put in SchoolMax. If students are given credit as extra credit ok but otherwise if it is not complete-exempt.

We will do our best to answer every question and offer additional guidance in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, PGCPS will continue meal service and share enrichment packets and other resources using our website, social media channels, e-blasts, text messages and PGCPS-TV (Verizon 38/Xfinity 96).The school system will be providing updated programming on Verizon 38 Xfinity 98

The system will use Social Media to push out info and alerts

Corona Virus web-page resources are available on PGCPS through the staff portal


Video Visits

All employees and their eligible dependents enrolled in PGCPS health plans are eligible for video visits, allowing you to consult with a board-certified physician from your smartphone, tablet or computer from the comfort of your home.  CareFirst member information.   Kaiser member information. Customer Service at CareFirst: 1-800-296-0724 or

If you need support during this time there is help and you are not alone.

You can call Employee Assistance Plan

By phone: 1-800-346-0110 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Or go Online:

Please remind your circle of influence that while this is an emergency, PGCEA is available Monday-Friday 9AM-5 PM. 301-736-2700 or We have set up a Corona Virus page on

FAQs from Teletown Hall

Process-What will the procedure moving forward with input from our members as it relates to Distance Learning? We are pleased that your team met with members of our negotiations team briefly the Friday before the plan was rolled out. Are you committed to continue this collaborative work? We are extremely grateful for the input provided from PGCEA for the current Distance Learning Plan. Using the input from the committee, the central office team worked through the weekend until 1am Monday to complete the document that was sent to employees a few hours later. For continuity, it is our hope that there will not be many changes. We will reconvene the committee that originally met at the conclusion of the first week of distance learning (April 17, 2020) to determine if there are any areas that need to be clarified for teachers.

Equity Question-How will the system account for the children and PGCEA members who do not have internet access at home?  Data service is expensive, if you use your phone as a hotspot.  And what is the expectation on cell phone use when school policy tell us not to use personal cell phones to contact parents or children. An allocation of $2 million was approved by the Board of Education to support providing wifi to students that are on Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) and for those immigrant students that did not feel comfortable completing the form to be identified as a FARMS student. In addition, we will be pointing our wifi hotspots in the meal distribution sites towards the parking lot to anyone (including staff) who needs access can have it. On Wednesday, I made a plea to our businesses, non-profit and faith based organizations to ask them to also open up their wifi hotspots for anyone (including staff). I wrote a letter to the Congressional leadership and our state federal representatives asking them to include broadband access for EVERYONE across the nation in the stimulus plan. I received an email from Van Hollen with his specific testimony supporting this request. If passed this would allow everyone to have free access during this pandemic. Lastly, I provided PGCEA leadership with the contact information for Comcast and Verizon to see if they would be willing to provide an educator discount. In terms of cell phone use, of course you can use your phone in these unprecedented times. Please make sure that when you call parents you use *67 before dialing the number so your phone numbers does not show up on their phone or caller ID.

Evaluations- What about those who have completed everything including observations and 4E?  Will they have to be on cycle next year? If a tenured employee has completed everything in the evaluation cycle for the 2019-2020 school year then we will denote they are complete. If a tenured employee has not completed the evaluation cycle we will role them over to next year and complete the process then. We are still waiting to hear from MSDE on how to handle nontenured teachers.

Professional Development-What about member who could not get into classes or got and were kicked out? We will offer additional professional development next week.

Grading- How is grading being handled equitably? What is the difference between exempt or incomplete. how do we verify issues with students who are not completing work. For 4th quarter it is difficult to handle grading equitably no matter how much I am trying to close the gap which is why we are using Pass and Incomplete. We have to acknowledge that no matter what we provide there may be some students that cannot meet the daily instructional plan. Contact by the teacher to the family to find out what is going on with the student will help determine how to best support the student. Exempt is only to be used in the gradebook for 3rd quarter when calculating grades. Incomplete is used as a grade for 4th quarter.  You will have to use a variety of ways to determine how students have learned the content taught (individual response to questions, work turned in electronically). We are not requiring students to mail work in or to drop it off at the school and someone pick it up. If a student is not completing work they get an I (incomplete) for their grade.

Special Education Issues-Deadlines for IEP’s, Medicaid, Scheduled SST meetings. This information was shared in a memo issued today which will be shared by your principals.


Salary and Benefits: Are we going to continue to get paid after April 24? As long as closure lasts? Yes, you will get paid after April 24, 2020 until school concludes for the school year. The reason I only state until April 24 is because if we go back to “normal” after April 24th I made the assumption that everyone would know they would continue to be paid.

Telework Forms: How can we streamline telework forms for 12 month employees? You only need to complete attachment 1 and 3 weekly after you have completed the entire packet for the first time.

Staff meetings: Are there to be regular scheduled staff meetings and or collaborative meetings and are they going to occur 9-1. How long should a staff meeting last? Weekend Email policy? We will continue with a once a month staff meeting just as outlined in the negotiated agreement. Teachers have asked can they collaborate with their colleagues in their school and we have agreed that this is permissible. All work should be done between the hours of 9 am – 1 pm to honor the fact that many of our teachers have families of their own they must support.

Click here to access the audio recording from the townhall.

Additional Resources