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School Safety Index Shows Progress

Eighty-one percent of the districts monitor student Internet activity, while 89% place computer monitors where adults can see them.

School districts have improved the success of cyber security programs, but they need more money to improve physical safety, according to recent research.

CDW Government, Inc. released findings Monday of a study on physical and cyber safety in schools. The CDW-G School Safety Index surveyed 381 school districts' IT and security directors about 14 elements of physical and cyber safety. The districts scored 55.3 out of 110 possible points on the CDW-G cyber safety index.

Eighty-one percent of the districts monitor student Internet activity; 95% block Web sites; and 89% place computer monitors where adults can see them, according to the study. Only 38% have closed networks to increase control over communication and content, CDW-G reported.

Nearly every district reported having an acceptable use policy but 37% update them less than once a year.

"Popular social networking sites such as Facebook have just opened up to high school users in the last year, which means that many districts have no stated policy about students using district resources, especially bandwidth, to access these sites," Bob Kirby, senior director K-12, CDW-G, said in a prepared statement.

The study found that districts rely too much on software and technical solutions to protect students, faculty, buildings, and district networks from threats. Districts fail to prioritize safety education and tech-savvy students often circumvent security measures by creating proxy servers, which puts them and their districts at risk, according to CDW-G. Only 8% of districts train students in cyber safety.

Most districts still prefer telecommunications for emergencies and fail to implement more efficient methods, according to the study. The greatest barriers to improving school safety are budgetary constraints, as well as a lack of staff and tools necessary for protection, the study found.

The national average for the physical safety index is 44 of a possible 160 points, CDW-G reported.

"The index shows the potential for schools to do more -- especially in the areas of safety education and emerging communication technologies," Kirby said.

Sixty-three percent of districts use security cameras, but only 24% of districts said they have real-time access to sex offender databases.

"It's as important for districts to know who is trying to gain access to their campuses as it is to watch them once they are there," Kirby said.

Forty-eight percent of districts surveyed said they use intercoms to disseminate information during emergencies, while 54% said they prefer phone calls for parental notification. Just 1% of the districts surveyed said they are considering mass notification systems like sending out alerts via text messages.

"In an emergency, every moment is critical, and education is a late adopter of mass notification systems," Kirby said.

Kirby said that in addition to alerting responders, faculty, and parents during emergencies, text messages can be used to improve overall communications between schools and parents.

CDW-G said that the School Safety Index can provide backup to IT and security directors seeking budget increases for safety. It also called on districts to reach out to other districts as well as vendors to increase their understanding of security technology options and best practices.

"Whether it is physical or cyber security, the threats that districts face will become increasingly sophisticated," CDW-G said in a prepared statement. "With a solid framework, the right tools and proper planning, districts have the opportunity to prevent breaches and anticipate threats."

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