Security Cautions Now: Implications in a New World of Virtual Learning


Paramount in the discussion of reopening our schools are the implications of safety and security for our students and staff. In this episode of the Learning Counsel’s Back to (e)School Tactics Discussions, some of our nation’s leading technology safety and security experts explore the finer points of keeping our schools safe as we reopen schools this Fall.

According to LeiLani Cauthen, CEO and Publisher at the Learning Counsel, “Just to give you a little overview to set up this discussion today, school safety is still concerned with things like active shooters. That hasn't gone away. And now we have this new realm of health, which includes temperature taking and all kinds of other things in that area. Then you have the whole side of cybersecurity; some of these new Edtech tools are getting some bad press about running their servers through China or they are Chinese owned. And people are a little skeptical about what they're going to be doing with the data. Those things are issues because of the rhetoric about the Chinese government not being our total friend right now. That's open to dispute, but the real issue is that cyber-attacks can come from any other country, including all over Europe and Ukraine, maybe parts of Russia. And then we've got the issue of how schools are social media monitoring for a number of different issues, including possible suicides. How are you dealing with threat identification? How are you keeping up your vigilance? What are your school routines? If you are a principal, what kind of routines are you putting in place to make sure that you're looking at everything including faculty safety training and particularly going into social distancing in the fall? And how are you reporting? If you have any incidents who do you need to tell? There are legal requirements and all of that.”

Jessica Little, Senior Director, Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPA), Santa Cruz County Office of Education in California, said “I deal mostly with special ed. In California we have these things called SELPAs, which is basically special ed local planning areas. I oversee North Santa Cruz County for special ed. We talked a lot about which platforms to use, which mostly comes from tech in general. So Jason is at the County office and then each L.E.A. has their own tech support. So whatever platforms are decided upon comes from them. But then from the special ed side we have parents who are concerned about whether their child is receiving some sort of teletherapy, who's going to see and who might overhear. We work with our staff around confidentiality with that, and then we've created letters to go home before kids receive services to say, and we've done it in a variety of ways. Some districts choose an opt-out letter saying, essentially, here's your risk of confidentiality. There may be people in the background, we'll do everything we can on our end to not have people in our room, but you never know who might be there. And if your kid's being served in a small group, same thing on that end. So, the opt-out letter is, this will happen unless we hear from you. If you would like a different method or you don't want your kid's face on the screen, then let us know and we'll make other arrangements. And then a best practices also, just to use a virtual background. So you're not seeing into other people's houses or who's walking by. So, there are some coaching practices and best practices that are shared with staff throughout the County.”

Jason Borgen is the Chief Technology Officer at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education in California. According to Borgen, “The importance of seeing the children on camera, on children seeing their peers on camera is such an important piece to that, just to add to the security implications as well, using the virtual background. That's one thing we do recommend. It gives a sense of ownership to their virtual identity, especially at elementary and middle school and giving them a little bit of personality for their visual identity. So, making it a little more fun for the students, I think is key on that end. Plus, it keeps the little brother out of the picture and things like that with Zoom. And that's why we actually prefer students to use Zoom because it provides the ease of virtual backgrounds. We also develop best practices on where to place the computer with the webcam, making sure you're facing a wall and not center of your living room. At the County Office of Education for alternative ed students, we house about 1400 kids who are all at-risk. They didn't do well in the traditional school system, so they're part of our L.E.A. We make sure the students have devices at home and they're all filtered through GoGuardian which provides a threat risk tool, or if students type in a Google search for suicide, we get alerted. We have those alerts monitored, ongoing, by some of our administrative staff as well.”

Ashley Aouate, Information Security Analyst, Fresno Unified School District in California said, “We've created numerous different teams to cover all the various aspects. We have a team that's dedicated to curriculum and instruction, along with that a team to create best practices and how to use Microsoft Teams. Where to place the webcam? What information can you, and can you not share recording your classroom sessions? And again, covering the recordings is extremely important because if it does have any PII within that recording, it is now a student record. So that is a very important distinction. If a student is misbehaving during class and if it's used for discipline, it is definitely a part of a student record. We have another team that focuses on the cybersecurity threats. And we see hundreds, if not thousands of attacks every single day on our student and staff accounts. They're coming from all over the world, from Eastern Europe, all the way to Asia and even within the U.S. so we have protections in place. And as a teacher, it is extremely important to keep phishing in mind, because if you do fall for a phishing attack, your credentials, get out there, and that could be a breach of student data. Another piece that we were focusing quite a bit is student privacy agreements, every EdTech software that we start using or consuming at a district level, we used the California Student Data Privacy Agreement. It allows us to ensure the minimum-security standards for their product, how the data may be used in addition to what they can do with that data.

Todd Dugan, Superintendent, Bunker Hill CUSD #8 in Illinois said, “I can tell you from a small rural district there are details in each building that principals are tweaking out with some of our expected upcoming guidance and requirements. However, as a district, we have to look at some of the practices that are being presented by our reopening teams and running it through a couple of tests. Like number one, is it legal or two, is this something has to be bargained with our teacher's union? And number three, if we do this type of screening, what becomes technically a record? Does it apply to FERPA or does it actually have temperatures and symptoms attached to students' names and does it now become not necessarily FERPA, but under the laws of HIPAA? So that's the kind of scrutiny that we are going through right now.”


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Never have we returned in the Fall with so many questions yet to be answered. With increased technology comes the need for increased security. This is a Must-See discussion, and the safety and security of your district is at stake.


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