As a technology leadership guy who also happens to have a law degree, I often get asked legal questions related to school technologies. Today, at the request of Miguel, I’m going to discuss issues related to posting student photos on the Web. I’ll preface this discussion with my usual caveats that 1) I am not offering legal advice, 2) I am not in an attorney-client relationship with anyone, and 3) I always recommend that folks consult their school district’s attorney regarding legal issues.
Pictures taken for school-related purposes
Schools take pictures of students all the time – for yearbooks, at athletic events, in class, at artistic performances, etc. Often they want to post those pictures to the Internet, thus making those photos potentially available to a global audience.
Every school district should have a policy for dealing with student photos. That policy should comply with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as well as any relevant state statutes (for example, Minnesota has the Government Data Practices Act).
Schools should solicit parents’ permission to post photos of their child on the Web. The permission form should clearly describe the anticipated ways in which the school will use student pictures. When posting photos, schools should try their utmost not to post accompanying names at all – the next best option probably is to post students’ first names but not last names. Sometimes schools need to post students’ full names – for example, an online feature of the star pitcher on the softball team or the lead actress in the school play – but these situations should be carefully thought out beforehand to minimize parental concerns about student privacy and safety. Parents should be informed of all of the various permutations so that they can make informed choices about when to grant or refuse permission for their child’s photo to be used.
Schools have the difficult obligation to somehow monitor which students’ photos can be used online and which can’t. For example, if a photo taken of a class activity has a student in the background whose parents refused permission, that photo likely can’t be used online, even if the focus of the picture was on other students.
Another dilemma for schools is what to do with parents who don’t return the permission form. Schools basically have two options when this occurs:
- assume they have permission to publish unless parents turn in the form and opt out; or
- assume they do not have permission to publish unless parents turn in the form and opt in.
The latter option is more protective of students and is generally the one I recommend to educators.
Here are some example policies, forms, and other resources related to school use of student pictures:
- Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools
- Beverly Hills (CA) Unified School District
- Columbia (MO) Public Schools
Pictures taken by parents or other guests
In an interesting twist, Miguel and I recently had an exchange about an e-mail he received from a technology coordinator:
A parent has taken photos at school events, primarily athletic events, then posted them on her own personal web site (without permission of the students or parents involved) with prices for purchasing. I know there could be a problem if the students were identified by name but they are not. There are no captions at all.
Our superintendent is out of town. I’m sure someone has encountered this situation. Does anyone know if this is legal?
Here’s my take on the situation: if the pictures were taken in a public place, or in a place where parents / guests had permission to take pictures (e.g., inside school or on school grounds), I believe that parents or guests are legally entitled to take the photos and/or sell them. If a school district wanted, I think it could have a policy prohibiting anyone taking photographs within school buildings or on school grounds, but the enforcement and/or public relations issues would be difficult.
I found some excellent resources on this issue:
Of course a school district can always request that photographers exhibit some sensitivity to folks’ concerns about privacy and safety, particularly since most of the subjects of the photos are minor children.
Obviously the issues surrounding photographs of students on the Web are numerous and complex. The challenge for schools is to balance their (and parents’) desires to publicize the great things that are happening in their organizations with their responsibilities to protect children and to satisfy parental concerns about student privacy and safety. The guidelines described here also would pertain to videos of students, not just photographs.
How does your school organization handle issues related to online publishing of student photos?
Do you know where and whom to ask for permission when putting the painting like the last supper on my website?
thank you very much for your advice.
Hi Myra, I believe you have to contact whoever owns the copyright to the particular painting or picture you wish to use. In the case of The Last Supper or other famous artwork, I think that’s probably going to be a museum…
I belong to a nonprofit organization of teachers who have received awards for excellence in mathematics teaching. Each year, some of these awardees have given certificates of recognition (on behalf of the organization) to students who have made exceptional achievements in mathematics. We are interested in recognizing these students on the organization’s website. We would post each student’s name, school name, city, state, teacher giving the certificate of recognition, and the year the certificate is awarded (no personal contact info re: the student or teacher). Our concern rests in the legalities of doing this — do we need to receive written permission from the students’ parents or the students?
Yes, you probably should get written permission from the students’ parents, Linda.
Is your advice the same if a municipality is printing pictures of its children on its website?
Thanks for the post. I am a teacher and would like to know about any legalities regarding a teacher like myself taking picture of students doing various activities at school or just fun pictures with the students at school and then posting in on a personal blog or even facebook. THanks!
As for legalities, I can’t help you, but as a parent of small children entering school, I would recommend you not take photographs of your students without prior permission, and then also obtain permission before you post them. I know many parents who do not have social media accounts and/or do not post photos of their own children for privacy reasons. If they’re not posting photos of their own children (and you couldn’t know who is/is not doing that unless you ask), I wouldn’t think your desire to trumps theirs. Just a thought.
Hi, I’m an art teacher and am on linkedin. I want to post images of student work for potential employers, is this okay?
I took a picture recently, which came out blurry. It’s a photo of a teacher at my school and one of the kids from the day care(he was walking her to class). Neither of their faces are shown. The caption only tell who the teacher is. I am a student and I posted the photo of my teacher walking them to class. My code of conduct states nothing against takin photos, though another student claims other wise and is saying “that if I don’t take the photo down I will get suspended.” Who is right?
My adopted son has some death threats against him from his birth mother’s creepy associates. We have kept his name secure from news sources but as he is in sports and entering middle school, we need some options- how do parent’s handle this? Fake name, inicials only, only first name??
Generally this information would come under the category of ‘directory information’ for which the school/district doesn’t need parent permission to divulge. However, given documented death threats, the schools’ obligation to keep students safe should easily trump this. Opening up a conversation with your school officials should result in a positive outcome for you?
Can you delete this or at least get the link back to my name out? Just a first name or a fake name would be fine.
I never noticed this posted my first and last name. Yikes.
I am a teacher who also is in charge of our school website AND yearbook. I would like to post photos of our events/children online and KNOW that I have to have their permission through the media permission slip.
My question is whether I can also have an online submission form – like a WordPress plugin – that makes it easy for me to have parents voluntarily submit photos and give permission at the same time.
Hi, Kimberly. Every year your school/district should send a form home to parents that asks what likeness information / media it can share for their children. This is how it accommodates the legal requirements of FERPA and other statutes. I don’t think that you can substitute your own process for that one? (other than as a redundant second checkoff if you think that’s desirable)
My boss is demanding all of us elementary teachers take indicidual photos of each child in our class, then put them on a bulletin board near the front office, including each child’s full name. (example: “Suzie Smith has excellent penmanship”). Isn’t this illegal? I’m worried about the kids’ photos and names being in a public display.
I think it’s super awesome you are so concerned about the children in your school! I don’t see how anyone could demand you display something like that. I know if I had kids in school and walked in to see their photo up with their full name underneath it, I’d be wicked pissed. My kid may spend their day at school but they’re not owned by the school!
What’s your district’s policy on ‘directory information?’ Does it include full name and photos of children (like in the yearbook)? Check and see…
we need help..my granddaughter is in PRESCHOOL and school posts pics of these small pre-k kids with
their name tags on.. making them susceptible to online predetors. if one does not allow their child to be photographed then child is pulled from event and ostracized. how is this right. how do you explain to a 4 year old why they can’t participate. how is it even allowed ? is there no protection for these kids. they have name tags with first and last names. is there any recourse? please advise.
Our kids music teacher posts on Facebook in a group that I believe is private. I’m not too concerned with that, but recently the videos she’s been posting are links for youtube. She is putting the videos of the kids singing and performing on youtube! I don’t recall ever signing anything, no kids are ever blurred out and it’s like every class in the school from first grade to sixth grade that I have seen videos of. Is this allowed?
What about a public FB page who posts “in memorium” pics of deceased students, from a yearbook, and is linked to municipal official school page? So those who see it believe it is alumni affiliated. But current Principal says they are not, and their IT dept says, “not our prob…anyone can link a page, we don’t care?” The Page owner claims to be affiliated w/local HS, won’t honor requests to remove phtos/info, in fact does it to spite those who ask their deceased family members not be posted
We are in AL.
My teacher posted a picture of my child and her class on her personal twitter page. There is no mention of the student’s name, but it was found by googling the teachers’ name and the school.
I signed a waiver for my daughter to be used in the schools website, etc, but does this include a teachers personal social media accounts?