How Minnesota is Handling Information Systems for Schools

k12 cybersecurity

In this episode, we discuss with our guest Terry Morrow of Minnesota School Boards Association, we discuss information systems for schools and the challenges being faced by the schools they serve as they plan for finishing this school year and preparing for next year.

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Podcast Transcription:

[00:00:32] Ryan Cloutier: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the K 12 cybersecurity podcast. I’m your host Ryan Cloutier today, our guest is the director of legal and policy for the Minnesota School Board Association. He’s also a commissioner of Nicollet County, serves as a lecturer at the Minnesota continuing Legal education. He has previously served as a house representative for the state of Minnesota from the years 2007 through 2012 and has a PhD in communication studies from Northwestern University, please join me in welcoming our guest terry morrow. Hey terry, how’s it going today?

[00:01:12] Terry Morrow: It’s going fantastic, Ryan, thank you so much for the invitation. This is great,

[00:01:15] Ryan Cloutier: glad to have you on, you know, um as we were kind of talking a little bit before the podcast started, you know, it’s, it’s really great to work with people in K 12 because they just have a different, a different vibe about them. Um those that work in schools in my experience tend to be more friendly, altruistic and helpful. And so I just, I love getting a chance to talk with people that are serving that community, you know, and obviously, you know these days we’re living in interesting times, we’ve got remote school and distance learning and maybe we’re going to reopen in the fall maybe not, we don’t know. And you know, with the with the work you’re doing with M S. B. A. As I understand it, you are helping or possibly even leading their Covid program. Is that is that correct?

[00:02:00] Terry Morrow: Well, it’s certainly a team effort. There’s so much to be covered and it’s fantastic trying to be able to talk with you today because one of the items, one of the areas that can be overlooked unfortunately is how do our information systems, how does access to technology, how will it all inform both what we’re doing today and how do we prepare for the summer and the next school year? This is a fantastic opportunity to talk about some issues that don’t always get top line attention,

[00:02:31] Ryan Cloutier: you know? And what I, what I found really fascinating the last few weeks is this is this isn’t a new issue, but Covid is has really put a new light on it. Right? So as I work with all these districts around the country and try to help them navigate their cybersecurity programs, what we, what we find is, you know, device management was a problem before Covid, even when the devices were in the school and now that they’re at home, it’s kind of exacerbated it. So it’s really great to see, even in this terrible time to really see the communities coming together, to see the schools coming together to try to come up with creative solutions. You know, one of the things I’m hearing a lot and I’m curious what your thoughts are. So I’m hearing a lot from tech directors and teachers that they are just, they’re really overwhelmed with this distance learning. Um, partly because it happened so quickly, but also because it’s, it’s hard to be a teacher and a mom at the exact same time in the exact same room or a dad for that matter. Um, are you hearing that from, from your constituents? Are you hearing about a lot of stress and burnout and things like that or what are you guys hearing?

[00:03:41] Terry Morrow: Well, we, we certainly hear a number of things. This is a tremendously challenging time. And as you mentioned, and for both the parents of Children who are now at home doing distance learning and from, as you say, those families who are both trying to teach and uh, care for their Children in the home environment has been a struggle for some, So it’s certainly been eye opening. Uh, we could look at distance learning through a few lenses first that lens and the transition from teaching in a classroom. Uh, distance learning and teaching at home. We could talk about the equity issues in education that are in many ways exacerbated by distance learning, but at the same time they offer some hope, some ideas about how we might be able to do education even better for all of our students. So in this time of challenge, I think we’re also learning some important lessons about distance learning about technology, uh, about some of the obstacles and some of the ways we can handle those obstacles right? One quick when I would bring up for some of our teachers that are at home, even if they have the, particularly the computer equipment available, they may not have the broadband access depending where they live, depending where uh, like I said, they are situated in the state of Minnesota that has um, create some challenges as it is for the families of the students. Uh, you know, we’ll talk with families and little understand that uh, there may be a computer in the house for the kids to use, but there are three kids and one computer

[00:05:24] Ryan Cloutier: and I’ve heard that, yeah,

[00:05:25] Terry Morrow: what else are you hearing about the students side of this since learning when it comes to technology?

[00:05:30] Ryan Cloutier: So what’s really interesting on the student’s side is the, how much the environment has an impact. So, you know, when, when a kid goes to school there there in the school setting and they’re among their peers and anyone that’s had a kid or been around a kid realizes that, you know, sitting still and focusing, especially for the younger kids is, is the big challenge of the day, right? Just, just being focused enough to get the work done And so in the school environment they’ve got more prompts and cues, if you will, that they’re there to learn and, and you know, there’s, there’s guidelines and rules about how to behave and when they’re in their home environment, what I’m hearing a lot is absence, uh, not being engaged. Um, if they have the tech, you know, and it’s working well, uh, some of the students are using that tech to do other activities besides class, but it’s been really interesting to hear how, how the behavior is different in the home setting, um, because it’s, it’s not school, right? They don’t have their peers right there. Um, maybe mom and dad are, you know, doing the best starting job they can, but, you know, they got to earn a living to, so there may be in the other room working on a computer, you know, expecting their kid to attend class and, and maybe they aren’t, aren’t. So I think, you know, from, from the students side, I think they’re frustrated. Um, and I think some of those challenges that were always present have really been exacerbated because, because they’re trying to do this from the at home environment, they’re trying to do it from the place that they’re used to playing video games or, you know, just being in a more relaxed atmosphere and not necessarily with that school focus,

[00:07:15] Terry Morrow: Well, there’s certainly some kids who are thriving in this in this environment and then there’s kids who are facing challenges and some of the challenges Ryan, you mentioned, I think adults would also say those who were now new to working at home might say, you know at work, I focus on getting work done, but at home maybe I get sometimes distracted and I do a load of laundry or what have you. Uh So well I think adults and kids are learning how to be productive in that home environment. Uh and then as you say, uh there are, we know there are some kids who are at home, they’re trying to do the distance learning but they may also be responsible for watching their younger siblings, we’re also in the home now, uh so they may be pulled in more than one direction as well. Uh and and like you say they connectivity issues, uh there can be uh some device issues, I know that many of our schools are able to provide a device but not all students. So what we’re seeing in districts, Ryan are a few things. We’re seeing school districts uh Handing out of you all those 1-1 devices and saying take them home, uh We’re having districts work with community partners and with tech providers to provide hotspots in areas where there isn’t sufficient connectivity, these are making things better, we still have room to grow as I’m sure, you know.

[00:08:54] Ryan Cloutier: Oh yeah, and it’s true on the on the work front actually last night. Um so one of the things we do at security studio and fr secure to help the community we run a. C. I. S. S. P. Mentorship program. So that’s a certified Information Systems Security professional. Um if you were to take that training and pay for it it’s about $5,000 a class and we do that training for free and we have for the last 11 years I was teaching class last night and I had to shut off my video because even with my fiber connection to my house I was having bandwidth issues because everyone’s online at the exact same time. And I live in a metropolitan area I’ve got you know fiber connection I mean I’ve got the fastest internet that that you know a resident can buy. Um And even I was having some of those challenges and I know how frustrated I get and and you know I work in this industry so um it’s you’re right I mean now I hope the good part of this, right so the Ray of Hope is this will drive us to complete connecting the rest of America, this will help us with those rural connection initiatives and these other things because you know there’s a very real likelihood this goes on for some time yet. Uh there’s a very real likelihood that this could happen again. And so I think as well as we’re preparing as we’re recovering from this and preparing for okay if we had to do this all over again in a couple more years, what would that look like? So I see that as a ray of hope. You know, one of the other things, I’ve heard a lot about kind of a challenge that maybe the students are having and even even the adults is the differences in learning style. Digital learning is a, it’s a narrow band of learning, right? It’s a very specific learning style, basically. You’re going to have your videos or you’re going to have your written text, there’s not a lot of hands on if you will. And so, you know, everybody learns a little bit different myself. Um, I do video pretty well. I can read okay, But if I do something with my hands, if I do a hands on activity, I’m going to retain the most amount of information from that from actually doing. And so, uh and this is true and higher it as well. I heard about things like how do you do a chemistry lab online? How do you, how do you do? So that’s physical things

[00:11:16] Terry Morrow: and that’s where I think, right, you’ve raised some really important points uh, starting first with people do learn in different ways or have different strengths in the way they learn and it maybe we come out of this with uh even more blended or nuanced way to approach to education where we have that direct face to face, uh, hands on, engaged learning, but we also incorporate digital learning even better than perhaps we were already doing. Uh We do though. You’re absolutely right. There are some classes right now. You and I would say don’t you have to be in the lab to really learn chemistry or uh it’s interesting, we have a number of schools running that offer welding. Oh yeah, I can’t do distance learning welding.

[00:12:01] Ryan Cloutier: It’s not advisable, I mean you can try it but

[00:12:07] Terry Morrow: yeah, just try it at my house. Yeah,

[00:12:10] Ryan Cloutier: exactly.

[00:12:12] Terry Morrow: Just recently, the Department of Education and the governor opened up the schools for completion of some of those career and technical education courses because there’s no way to do them. And this is learning all the equipment is in the school, like the welding equipment. So we have to figure those things out, I will say it’s interesting. Right, on the chemistry one, have talked with some chemistry teachers have been tremendously invented about, okay, well, how can I teach chemistry from my kitchen to your kitchen type of approach? Uh And I think if if teachers had had more time than we had in this lead up in the pandemic, we may have seen even more creative ways to do that to teach, say chemistry uh through distance learning and maybe over december will develop some uh additional tools and approaches because I think right, you and I read the same newspapers, another wave or phase, even if this pandemic could occur and we could be right back to distance learning.

[00:13:17] Ryan Cloutier: Well, Yeah. And you know, I’ve I’ve seen some cool stuff in in kind of coming up with a AR and VR which which is great. But then it goes right back to that equity issue, right? It goes right back to, you know, not everybody has VR goggles, right. Matter of fact, most people don’t. Uh, and so, you know, I hope as we as we look at some of these technologies as we find those creative ways to do this, that we’re also, you know, as as a community, right, thinking about the support that we’re going to need to provide to ensure that our schools have the resources they need because, you know, the realities, technology is not cheap. The costs have come down substantially from when it started. I mean, these days, uh, my cell phone is, you know, 10,000 times more powerful than the first computer I had. Although they cost about the same. Right.

[00:14:16] Terry Morrow: But,

[00:14:18] Ryan Cloutier: you know, the price of the technology while it has, you know, overall come down, it’s still expensive. It’s still a luxury item if you will. And so I think if we can, you know, work together as a community to to really, you know, whether that’s a tax referendum or it’s a fundraising or something. Um, I think we got to do that. And the other interesting one that I’ve heard about and I’m curious your opinion on this. Um, so I’ve heard rumblings that some of the rural districts are thinking about kind of merging resources And saying we can’t do this alone as a small district of 250 students, but maybe we can do it together As a district of 5000 students. Are you hearing anything like that? That’s just some anecdotal stuff that I’ve kind of heard on a few calls where they’re they’re exploring that. Is is that there any basis to that?

[00:15:11] Terry Morrow: Oh, there is. There’s, there’s a number of collaborative and cooperative efforts to figure out. Ok, how can we deliver in a way that is economically efficient? That doesn’t overtax resources, especially for a small district that may not have the staff to do all the type of things that a larger district could do. Absolutely. And uh, right. I was thinking about as you’re describing the uh, describing a are, for example, in the education space. We often as a school will also have to think about how we educate the parents on the technology. Yeah, the kid who knows how to use it.

[00:15:51] Ryan Cloutier: Right. Yeah, the kids the text support. Well, you know, what’s in and what’s interesting about that too is, you know, um, that the at home security aspect, the personal responsibility for your own cyber safety I think is really started to, to come to light. I know I’ve talked to a multitude of private companies where, you know, that worker being at home is risky. They’ve got their own firewall at home that maybe is out of date or was never updated in the first place or still uses the default password of you know, admin or something like that and um that they’re they’re nervous. Matter of fact, I talked to a hospital earlier this morning, one of my clients and we had to work through some challenges about what is uh or rather what are the appropriate technologies for managing telehealth and just because something can do something doesn’t mean something should do something. And I think the same is true in in school, you know, we had the big debate around zoom and it zooms safe or not safe and all, you know, sensational headlines aside and yes, there are grains of truth here and there. Um, but the bottom line is, is none of it’s safe. Don’t assume something safe simply because it’s not currently in the headlines for having a problem approach at all with caution is kind of the message I’ve been giving because right after zoom had an issue, oops, there goes Microsoft teams having an issue on oops up Cisco Webex had an issue. And the reason that you’re hearing about all this is, you know, the bad guys are now targeting us where we are and we’re not at the office and we’re not in the school building were at home. And so I absolutely uh just fiercely passionate um that the parents need to be involved as a matter of fact trying to make some inroads to the P. T. A. Organizations because I believe that that partnering with the P. T. A. S. Um would be a good way to start getting some of these resources in the hands of mom and dad. You know, here’s your kind of top five, top 10 things that you need to be doing at home. Just like we have, you know, told him about uh changing the batteries in the smoke detector and having an an evacuation plan. And you know, I remember even when I went to school many gray hairs ago, um you know, they did the we did the whole stop drop and roll and then we had a sheet to take home to mom and dad. You know, do we have an evacuation plan in a meeting place?

[00:18:25] Terry Morrow: So right. When you unlettered the onion there several times, which is great, you raise some fantastic issues to talk about. So for for the family educational rights and privacy act that’s central to our discussions about using technology for education purposes, uh particularly the distance learning environment. It’s really a challenge to figure out how our schools and our teachers use uh digital education to the home and still maintain student privacy data, educational data. Even easy things like zoom. So uh we’ve had, we’ve had discussions at the national level among school law attorneys Ryan talking about, could you do a zoom class with every kid working in their home, but the inside of their home could be seen by every other family or is that somehow or is that perhaps a violation of a right to privacy? Or is it consent when the families sign up? And I don’t write, you may work with your clients to talk about purple issues when it comes to using technology for education

[00:19:37] Ryan Cloutier: and we have, we’ve, you know, I’m glad you bring that up. You know, we’ve talked a lot about the privacy impact and what’s actually been really interesting is, you know, not all students um live in homes that they want to have seen by other people. And not all students live in homes where everything hanging on the wall would be considered school appropriate. And, and so, you know, part of the challenge in that, in that respect, that privacy is also taking into consideration that unfortunately, this, this child may live in the home of, of a hoarder and the only clean space they have is their bed in their bedroom, which we’ve traditionally discouraged as a, as a place to do the learning from because we want to promote more of a focused environment and obviously privacy concerns about the bedroom and things like that. But um, it becomes so multifaceted so quickly,

[00:20:38] Terry Morrow: it really does Ryan, you know, in the classroom, the second grade teacher might have students call out answers, which is fine in the physical classroom, but now I could be sitting in my house watching, uh, jimmy another kid from another family answering questions.

[00:20:57] Ryan Cloutier: Well, exactly. And we’ve

[00:20:59] Terry Morrow: been trying to figure that all out

[00:21:01] Ryan Cloutier: well. And I think it is, so you touched on it a little bit, I think it’s part consent, but I think it’s more important for it to be informed consent and not just I need you to sign here so I can teach your child. I think there does need to be that bigger conversation. Um, anecdotally one of the stories that I heard was a student who lives in a home where grandpa was in World War Two and captured a Nazi flag and the family hangs that flag with pride because grandpa captured it. That’s not how that’s going to come across. So, you know, it’s it. And then back, you know, like I said, the hoarder homes or other situations other, uh, you know, I mean, we’ve even seen it with the adults right? Where spouses are wandering through the background, you know, half dressed or you know, and so that’s what fascinates me about this is, is it just, it becomes so deep, so quick. And so one of the things that we did to help schools and we have a bunch of resources we put together. But one of the things that we put together was appropriate videoconferencing norms, make sure the student is appropriately dressed, be prepared to mute or reject. A student should behavior start to go a direction, whether that’s the student’s behavior or the behavior of their siblings or others in the background, Right. If we get to that point, uh, you know, some districts are choosing to not use video. I think that that’s wise and counterproductive at the same time. Uh, let me unpack that for a second. So not having the video on obviously reduces risk of any accidental exposure or things like that, but it also then prevents the teacher from being able to do the other part of their job that most of us don’t talk about. You know, once you work in the school industry, you learn something and what you learn is that a teacher is more than just a delivery system for curriculum that this teacher is actually checking in on the student’s overall well being on their emotional well being on their social well being on these, you know, um, and for as sad as it is to say, not every parent is great, not every home is safe. Um, and that doesn’t even begin to unpack our homeless population and the challenges there. So I think, you know, back, back to ferpa um, I would love it if we could get that updated. I would love if that could get a nice refresh and we could bring it out of the seventies into, you know, the 2020 era, right? Because I think Phurba was was great when it was wrote for the time and spirit in which it was wrote, I struggle sometimes to help people digitize it if you will. So how do I apply this digitally? Well, it’s kind of like this and this. Okay. But it doesn’t account for these 50 different nuances and that’s where you know, we’ve tried to compensate with some of the other, you know, child online privacy act, you know, zip code all those things to try to compensate for those gaps. Um, but I think societally and I hope, you know, as a legal profession, I’d love to see you guys take up the charge on this and say, okay, we got to have something new or we’ve got to, we’ve got to update this language to be more consistent with our reality where I have 3rd 4th 5th party companies holding my student data. And is the district truly authorized to get that many levels away from the school building right. When the parents are giving consent, most of them are not thinking about, I’m also consenting to amazon and google and this tech vendor and that ed tech vendor to have my child’s data and then possibly that vendors using 34 or five different other vendors to provide that service and before you know it there’s a copy of your kids data In 75 different locations With 75 different levels of protection around that data, some of them very adequate and some of them not adequate at all. So I think that’s the bigger, the bigger dragon tail on that if you will. Right. It’s but it’s, it’s, it’s fascinating to have these conversations because I think this is the time to do it. This is now is the time for us to work through some of these challenges because I do believe we come out of this more digital, More remote work, more remote school distance learning. I think those, those will become new norms for us. I don’t know that we ever 100% fully go back to the way things once worked.

[00:25:44] Terry Morrow: Probably not. Our schools, I think our themes have been consistent, right? Our, our schools have both done a great job. They’ve been trying to find ways to deal with the very issues we talked about, about accessibility, about different learning styles, about the inequities that arise about uh privacy issues I think they and remarkably inventive and thoughtful given a very short time span they’ve been allotted to do this. And I think by and large, the families and the kids have done a great job adjusting on the fly as well. And so it feels uh that the summer is coming at the right time so that we can continue to have these conversations and identify things that weren’t working and how to fix them and how to leverage the things that show us great promise, especially going into the future. You mentioned telemedicine and telehealth, fantastically important, especially in rural areas that aren’t as close to medical services and at the same time, we have in the schools, students who receive therapy and other services in the school building, we have to figure out can we get those services provide those services while they’re in the home? So telemedicine tele therapy affect our schools as well?

[00:27:07] Ryan Cloutier: Yes. And I’m glad you bring that up because that’s another one that a lot of people outside of the K- 12 world, I don’t even know this is happening. Um, some districts are actually providing community health and it goes beyond the student. It, it goes to, you know, they’re providing mental health services to the community at large, there providing. Um, I mean, I was just blown away at the, at the amount of food that that schools provide to to communities to two families, not just the student, but you know, uh, bags and bags of groceries. And it just, it, it was awesome to see the districts doing that. It was at the same time, a little bit like, wow, I guess, I didn’t know, I mean, even in my own community, which by no means are we, you know, outrageously affluent or anything like that. But, you know, this is a, you know, upper middle class suburban community and there were lines around the block

[00:28:03] Terry Morrow: and part of that is that some of those community organizations, those nonprofit, the food providers weren’t able to have their doors open to do that. So the school stepped in.

[00:28:17] Ryan Cloutier: And that’s, that’s great, I mean, and that really speaks to the purpose of, you know, the community component of school. So let me, let me ask you this when, you know, as M. S. B. A. Is kind of strategizing, you know, what, what to do next to kind of best service members. Can you kind of tell me what your top three areas of focus are right now, that you guys are kind of trying to work your way through to, to really help your, your districts um, be better positioned as we kind of come out of this and get ready to get into next year.

[00:28:49] Terry Morrow: Well on a broad front and then I’ll narrow down to three that uh, focus more on technology. The broad front is going to be funding. I think we sell in the state of Minnesota where in a deficit situation uh, from the forecast we just got the other day and certainly the federal government uh, is reflecting the economic issues around the globe. And so schools depend on tax funding. And so, given the economic situation, we’re in, schools are certainly very concerned about uh, being able to uh, provide education, the education you and I are describing in an environment that is economically uh, in in insignificant in a significant circumstances right now, looking at technology, I think there are a few things msb is looking at and one right is right in your wheelhouse. Uh continuing to enhance school districts ability to maintain a secure information system ah both from external threats and an internal threats, especially as uh more educational data and other information maybe past digitally as opposed to within the school building through analog or other means. Uh I see information security tied with our risk management practices being a key focus and I have to imagine that’s got to be one of your key focuses as well.

[00:30:19] Ryan Cloutier: Absolutely. To to the point that we’ve actually built a school specific risk assessment uh and then we have for our really small districts that we know are struggling. We have a free version of that um because it is, it’s the biggest, it’s from our perspective, not just as a company, but as an entire industry, the knowing what your risk is so that you can be aware of the steps you need to take to mitigate it or reduce it. And not all not all those steps are financial. Actually, the number one defense against cyber crime against cyber risk is knowledge. So I I really, you know, that is a huge, huge focus area for us because we realize that we’ve got to overcome that challenge as a community um and being that schools are, are the shining light of community in our, in our society. Um that’s that’s a major focus area. So I’m glad to hear that that’s a focus area as well,

[00:31:21] Terry Morrow: that that I’m glad to hear you all are doing that. I think the second would be the thing we may have opened with accessibility in the sense of having the device, having the internet access, addressing the inequities in the in the digital divide which uh deeply impact uh the achievement gap deeply impact uh families across the state. We need to, as educators continue to work on ways to bridge that divide. And then the third that comes to mind, right, is accessibility uh to our I’ll start with the easy one. Accessibility to our web sources. You know, we’ve got every school district has a website, we have to continue to make sure those websites are accessible to everyone in our community.

[00:32:22] Ryan Cloutier: Yeah. And there’s a big push there with uh you know, 80 a um the new standards that have come out for that and I know we’ve we’ve been working hard to make sure that our stuff is is fully compliant and you know, you have accessibility and you have availability, right? And that ties back to that whole cybersecurity and risk aspect because if you don’t have the necessary protections in place, then unfortunately the bad guys or you know, board students, we see that to uh you know, can can knock a system off line. So that’s yeah, that’s that’s so huge. And so let me let me ask this, I know we’re getting close to time, but I do have a final question for you and that’s if we’ve got listeners that want to get more involved, what’s the best way for them to get involved in in M S. B. S mission in helping to promote it? Or maybe volunteer work or funding donations, things like that. What’s the best way to go about getting involved with you guys?

[00:33:18] Terry Morrow: Sure. Well, M. S. P. A is a membership organization of, uh, right now we have every school district in the state is a member and we have charter schools that are members as well. The way to find out more about it is to visit our website, which is at I would encourage folks visit our website, see what we’re doing, See what we’re talking about. Our goal is to help school board members do the very best they can to uh, serve their students and their communities. We provide resources to administrators. We help districts with uh, legal, uh, issues that come up and policy. We help with training and development. But we also have a team that works at the capitol, ah, as laws are being created and debated. So I would encourage folks to visit our website. All our contact information is there, reach out to us. We’d love to hear ideas. Concept that uh, folks might believe would be helpful to our schools and our students.

[00:34:32] Ryan Cloutier: Awesome. Well, I know I really appreciate all the work you guys do and and look forward to continuing to serve this community and, you know, work with you guys in whatever capacity that might look like. Um because it is going to take all of us to get ahead of this. Well, terry, I thank you so much for your time and um listeners, if you know, please do reach out, you can, you know, get terry at M N M S B A dot org. Uh you can follow us on twitter @StudioSecurity, and you can follow me on twitter @CloutierSEC. Well, thanks everyone. It’s been a fantastic episode. We will talk to you all again soon. Thanks and have a great day.