As districts struggle to bring students back, IT departments are key to success

With at least some remote learning likely in the fall, the IT department plays an essential role in assuring devices and systems are secure and scalable
Richard Quinones is senior vice president at iboss.
Richard Quinones is senior vice president at iboss.

As school officials across America decide how to begin the 20/21 school year – questions abound: will kids come back to the physical classroom, will they stay home, will it be a combination?

Although many questions are still unanswered, we know planning efforts for the upcoming school year will vary greatly from state to state, district to district.  We also know that no matter the teaching and learning configuration, all teachers and students will need safe and secure internet access, especially considering districts’ essential teaching and learning resources now reside in the cloud.

This new norm has made the district Information Technology (IT) department an essential change agent, tasked to address fundamental virtual learning requirements; from the purchase, configuration and distribution of mobile computing devices, to guaranteeing every student has safe and secure (CIPA compliant) internet access – wherever they are. Now more than ever before IT departments are the key to a district’s success in the age of COVID-19.

Traditionally a district will start a take-home/one to one program designed to give every student a computing device to reach mostly cloud-based instructional resources on/off campus, but only after careful study, planning and budgeting considerations are made. When COVID-19 hit in/around March 2020, districts had days to a few weeks to determine how they would finish the school year, with many unable to pivot to a one to one model.

Related: Device management: 3 key strategies for success

Fast forward to now, as districts attempt to solidify their plans to reopen, one fact remains, all  districts will be more reliant on the internet to deliver instruction, and most districts will require a computing device/take-home program. As a result IT departments face tremendous pressure to provide the network infrastructure and cybersecurity solutions (with no new budget considerations), to support thousands of new mobile computing devices, while ensuring compliance with state and federal child safety mandates, not to mention the challenge they have always faced to combat the tremendous increase in cybersecurity threats.

Cybersecurity experts confirm the total volume of phishing emails and other security threats related to COVID-19 represent the largest coalescing of cyber-attack types around a single theme. This and many other malicious campaigns targeting the public education sector, originating from advanced persistent threats (APT), place public education at greater risk than ever before.

Many districts depend on outdated hardware or makeshift cloud solutions to provide content filtering – with little to no ability to provide APT.  Also, most of these solutions are not sophisticated enough or possess certifications to support highly regulated industries such as banking and healthcare. Yet they support public school systems responsible for collecting more personal sensitive data. Although these vendors attempt to redefine their solutions to meet today’s new challenges, they do not offer our districts the cybersecurity posture required to meet the criteria in a COVID-19 world.

I have assembled a list of standard requirements that all district IT leaders should consider, before investing in a cloud-based content filter/cybersecurity platform:

Criteria for a cloud-based content filter in a COVID-19 world

  • Your district’s cloud-based content filter should be built from the ground up for the cloud – not a modification to a vendor’s hardware
  • Your district’s cloud-based content filter should be enterprise-grade, capable of coexisting across commercial Fortune 10, including Finance, Healthcare, and Retail verticals
  • It should hold at least one or more of the following industry certifications: SOC 1 Type II, SOC 2 Type II, ISO-9001, ISO-27001
  • It should be capable of seamlessly supporting all device types e.g. IOS, Windows, Chromebook, etc. with no impact to user experience
  • It should horizontally scale, no matter the number of devices; your solution should be able to accommodate (in minutes) the ever-growing number of devices converging onto the network – especially now during COVID-19, with no significant increase in cost
  • It should provide more than filtering, and include comprehensive reporting – yet be capable of generating friendly reports on high-risk behaviors, offer bandwidth optimization, delegated administration, high performing YouTube functions, and selective decryption  
  • Your district’s cloud-based content filter should offer APT technologies, including Malware and DLP – in an All-In-One platform accessible via a single pane of glass

These criteria should be unequivocal requirements for all public education institutions and should be competitively priced. School networks, often more complicated and responsible for supporting the largest number of concurrent users – as compared to the private sector, should be using the very same enterprise solutions the largest corporations depend upon. Now more than ever, school districts are learning that in a COVID-19 world, their IT departments are the key to make sure the delivery of instruction and learning is not compromised, rather optimized to guarantee all students the ability to thrive academically no matter where or when.

Richard Quinones is a senior vice president at iboss. He has spent over 20 years taking on important IT leadership roles at the county, state and national levels. His past experience includes being appointed Los Angeles County’s first chief education technology officer, where he led the delivery of IT services across 80 school districts and five community colleges. 

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