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Opinion: Schools Need Privacy Polices, Tools to Post Student Photos

At a time when cameras are ubiquitous and social media is part of community engagement, school districts need policies, and perhaps technology, that formalize the process of getting parental consent for photos of students.

female student clutches laptop with cybersecurity badge, contemplates user accounts and privacy
Numerous schools across the United States are unintentionally violating image privacy laws due to insufficient privacy policies and procedures, or not having privacy-enhancing technology to automate compliance. A recent survey of 375 parents by the media management company Pixevety found that an overwhelming 93 percent of them believe it’s important to protect and manage their kids’ digital footprint. The study also found that 42 percent of parents said a school or teacher published photos or videos of their child without their consent. This is a huge number of both students and parents who have had their photo privacy blatantly violated — and this number doesn’t even account for the parents who are unaware their student’s photos have been used without their permission.

In another study in the academic journal Educational Researcher, a group of researchers analyzed 18 million photos posted by U.S. schools and districts to find out how often students’ personally identifying information (PII) could be determined. They found that students were identifiable in 4.9 million images and that nearly 726,000 posts contained students’ full names and approximate locations.

It’s time for schools to take student privacy seriously and use advanced, automated media management technology that can ensure the right level of parental consent has been collected and applied, allowing parents to control and protect their children’s images when necessary.


Properly managing consent for school photos is essential for child privacy and protection, which entails making sure the photos are handled appropriately by all staff and in real time. This includes applying a student’s photo consent restrictions to each photo they are featured in before sharing.

First and foremost, schools need to collect current (i.e., annually), valid photo consent from parents. Next, they should securely store and automatically monitor any photos and videos of students to manage which ones can be used and shared externally online, based on the explicit consent granted by families. Additionally, schools should determine how they will accommodate students whose parents don’t wish to provide consent. And most importantly, schools need to implement a standardized process for locking down students who are at risk and may require further protection because of family circumstances, such as foster care or domestic violence in the home, and to collect consent regularly.


Mishandling student photos poses numerous risks, particularly considering the dangers that new technology presents. Mishandling student photos can expose schools to litigation and students to potentially harmful situations. Besides the proportion of parents who said they had already seen photos or videos of their child published without consent, the aforementioned Pixevety study also found that 68 percent of those parents would take legal action against their school if they found out their child’s photos were being used inappropriately.

Posting photos of children online can lead to grooming, bullying, AI manipulation, deepfakes, and even identity theft. When schools publicly post photos of students, there is a risk that unauthorized individuals as well as data-mining corporations will access the students’ private information, like names, school names, locations, interests, close peers and more. Schools should also consider the lifespan of a photo once shared online.

Schools that actively seek parental approval before taking or using student photos not only build greater trust with parents, but avoid the legal ramifications of not doing so.

Prioritizing consent not only strengthens trust between families and school authorities but also enhances a school’s reputation. Respecting students and their families by obtaining photo consent is more important than sharing school photos for marketing or social media purposes. Trust between parents and teachers is vital for a successful school-family relationship, and for building a friendly, positive learning environment.

Schools must take responsibility for safeguarding students by ensuring their photos are not posted on social media or used in marketing without explicit parental consent. By adopting technology tools to protect students, schools benefit themselves and the communities they serve.

The bottom line is, parents want schools to respect and protect their children. Schools that neglect privacy-enhancing technology or mishandle student photos risk damaging their reputations and losing parental trust.

Colin Anson is the CEO and co-founder of Pixevety, a consent-driven media management platform. Colin’s background in online media and his own experience as a parent led him to develop Pixevety’s technology to help schools and families protect children’s digital safety and privacy.