Lawrence school district exploring tech security upgrades to protect from increased cyber threats amid pandemic

photo by: Meeting screenshot/USD 497 YouTube

Zachary Conrad, right, executive director for research, evaluation, accountability and information technology, and David Vignery, left, director of technology, provide a technology report to the Lawrence school board during its meeting on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.

The Lawrence school district will look to improve its technology security after it has seen an increase in online threats as schools shifted to remote education in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

David Vignery, director of technology, told the Lawrence school board during its meeting on Tuesday that he and school district staff are looking into some areas it can strengthen security for technology used in the school district, particularly for the district-provided devices students use for school assignments.

During the pandemic, phishing and other cyber attacks have increased dramatically, which calls for the school district to look into more ways to protect the students’ information, Vignery said. Technology staff will likely bring some software security options to discuss with the board in the future, he said.

“We’re not a bank, and we’re not a hospital, but we still have valuable information, and we need to protect that valuable information,” Vignery said. “We need to have the tools to do that.”

Currently, more than 14,000 devices are being used by students, faculty and staff outside of Lawrence schools, according to Vignery’s presentation. Superintendent Anthony Lewis said earlier in the meeting that students returning to the school district next year will be able to keep their devices over the summer break, which began this week.

Carole Cadue-Blackwood, a board member, said she heard from community members that were happy about the school district’s decision to allow students to keep them over the summer. She suggested that could be a move the school district continues in the future.

But that also means the security threat increases. Vignery said when the devices are used on the school district’s property, the devices are checking into the school district’s network, which provides them with a certain amount of protection.

“Now that they are 100% offsite, we have some hidden spots that we’re working through and trying to figure out how we maintain our quality of security and protection,” he said.

In other business, Communications Director Julie Boyle updated the board on the communication team’s work in the last year, which included providing information to the community about the school district’s new strategic plan, increasing social media outreach efforts and rebranding of the school district’s official logos.

Boyle also said that she’s proud of the team’s work in keeping the community informed during the pandemic. She noted the team worked to share important school district and health and safety information related to the pandemic through a dedicated webpage on the school district’s website.

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