Education & Government
Diana Baker Freeman Image
Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

Advance planning for school districts can help in worst-case scenarios

October 11, 2023
0 min read
Advance planning for school districts can help in worst-case scenarios

Emergencies are becoming the norm these days. If it’s not weather, it’s the threat of school violence, or cyberthreats such as hacking. We see it on the news every day. Planned changes can rock the boat, but unplanned events can throw the boat off course.

The key is in planning for emergencies. No one and no organization can ever be completely prepared. However, advance planning will put your district, and more specifically your leadership team, on more solid footing when an emergency happens.

When the small town of West, Texas, made the news years ago after a fertilizer plant exploded on a Wednesday evening, the students were back in school by the following Monday, despite losing four of their five buildings. When weather closed down a small town in Iowa due to an inland hurricane (derecho), the leadership team continued operations and coordinated plans to keep everyone safe. And more recently, in 2020, schools across the nation closed for COVID.

Districts that were prepared with web-based material and processes already in place could continue to function without the delay that many districts faced. Preparedness was the key in all these instances, and it continues to be the key now, no matter the emergency.

Technological preparedness is crucial in today’s world. Not only does it protect certain key information, but it provides the mechanism for continuance of operations.

The pandemic ushered in an era of increased cyberattacks

The COVID era also ushered in one of the worst periods for cyberattacks that public entities have seen. Education alone has seen ransomware attacks that have cost over $53 billion in downtime over the last few years.

While COVID brought many upgrades and advances in technology — perhaps the biggest forced digital transformation in recent times — it also opened the doors for unsecure communications.

It did not take hackers long to figure out that unsophisticated systems were low-hanging fruit. The school business is a people business, and cyberattacks impact our people in many ways.

Consider a few things that are jeopardized by a cyberattack:

  • Reputation management: Cybersecurity incidents can harm a school's reputation. A breach can erode trust and deter students, parents and staff.
  • Legal compliance: Compliance with data protection laws such as FERPA and HIPAA is essential. Failure to comply can result in legal consequences and fines.
  • Intellectual property protection: Schools develop and use valuable educational content and resources. Protecting intellectual property from theft is crucial.
  • Financial security: Schools often handle financial transactions, budgets and payroll information. Cybersecurity helps prevent financial fraud and embezzlement.
  • Data protection and student privacy: Schools store a vast amount of sensitive student and staff data, including personal information and academic records. Ensuring cybersecurity helps protect this data from breaches and unauthorized access, helping to safeguard against potential violations of student confidentiality.
  • Educational continuity: In the digital age, schools rely on technology for teaching and administration. Cyberattacks can disrupt classes, exams and administrative functions, affecting students’ learning experiences. This is the heart of everything a school district does. If we aren’t educating students, we fail to exist. But more importantly, we fail our students.

The role of board management software in cybersecurity

How can web-based services help? The obvious answer is that it secures materials and processes. Using a service like Diligent Community to manage your workflow processes creates an efficient process to prepare agendas and materials for the board, whether they are related to security plans, student disciplinary hearings, or even application materials.

Secondly, many superintendents prefer to keep board members updated between meetings with a Friday memo. Utilizing cloud-based software like Diligent Community for distribution of these memos and accompanying materials to the board is a security investment as well. Logging in to a secure portal eliminates the likelihood of users clicking on a tainted email or attachment. It also allows these materials to be searchable for later reference.

Should the worst happen and your district experiences an emergency or even a cyberattack, secure information can be shared through your board management software, replacing texts, emails and other unsecured communication means. While district officials are handling the crisis, the board can be informed and kept up to date without having to be onsite.

There is a human dynamic to incident response. Managing employee stress, community concerns and parent worry is of utmost importance. A calm, informed leadership team will set the tone for the overall response. And the district can control the flow of information until the crisis has passed.

Staying on top of the threats

Modern board management software is an important defense districts can employ against cyberattacks. Boards should look at solutions with these features:

  • Secure data hosting through a top-tier cloud provider
  • Ensured data availability through storage redundancies and recovery
  • Audits that encompass login history and application-level document-sharing audit trials available upon request
  • Robust access controls and in-app role-based security allowing different levels of privacy

As technology evolves, cyberthreats become more sophisticated. Staying attentive to cybersecurity, and having that advance planning done, ensures that schools can adapt to new challenges. Future-proofing has become a key responsibility of school districts. Prioritizing cybersecurity is essential to maintaining trust, protecting sensitive data and providing a safe digital environment for students, staff and the community.

Diligent understands the concerns public education board members have around protecting their data. Diligent Community is purpose-built to secure school board business against cyber risk.


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