South Orangetown Central School District

In January, Director of Technology George Brady presented his team’s efforts to protect student data privacy and security to the District’s Finance Advisory Council and Audit Committee.

With the launch of distance learning on March 31, the Technology Office has been focused on providing hardware and wifi hotspots for families in need and for staff, troubleshooting tech issues and vetting new platforms for remote instruction and learning. For this “Three Questions” interview, Brady shared how his team is continuing to safeguard privacy and security.

1. What is the District doing to protect student and staff privacy as it shifts to distance learning?

As with any resource or tool the District adopts, we do our best to ensure our students and staff are protected. We work with our vendor-partners to implement safety and security protocols as part of best practice. Regretfully, we live in a world where malicious actors may try to compromise the good work our students and staff engage in.

In preparation for the District’s Distance Learning initiative, we provided our staff with resources on how to manage and host synchronous learning engagements or “live sessions.” In addition, we provided professional development opportunities on conducting videoconferences using the tools available through the District.

You may have read about video conferences being “hacked” or compromised. Many of these instances are a result of the host failing to implement basic settings to enhance the security and integrity of the video conference. Our team has implemented a number of security and privacy settings centrally to minimize the potential for meeting hacks and we’ve instructed staff not to post meeting invites, IDs and passwords on the open Internet, including social media.

One of the security settings we use is the “waiting room.” All meeting participants are held in a “waiting room” prior to the videoconference and the host must specifically admit each participant into the video conference. (Students who use fake screen names or don’t appear on screen won’t be granted access to class videoconferences, as teachers cannot verify their identity.) All participants are muted automatically, allowing the host to control audio participation. Most importantly, the host has the ability to remove participants from a videoconference should it be necessary to do so.

Distance learning is a new experience for all of us. As our program rolls out, we expect to run into issues that we didn’t anticipate or discover that approaches that we expected to be effective can be further improved. We ask for our families’ patience, flexibility and partnership in the coming days and for the duration of our distance learning program.

2. What protections are in place for District-issued hardware, such as Chromebooks?

The District employs enterprise-level management systems to help protect the use of District-issued equipment by our students and staff. All Chromebooks and iPads are managed through centralized mobile device management systems (MDM). Through the use of these MDMs, we can monitor and control access to the devices, as well as change system configurations based upon user needs. In addition, all District-issued devices are centrally filtered to ensure we are meeting both state and federal legislation, including the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

3. What steps can students and parents take to protect themselves online?

Good digital citizenship and responsible use of technology are key themes in our District’s technology education program, which starts in kindergarten.

  • Keep passwords private.
  • Don’t share links to videoconferences.
  • Dress appropriately for videoconferences.
  • Log in to SOCSD videoconferences with your real name so that your teacher can identify and admit you to participate.
  • Find a space with a neutral background for video conferences so that other participants aren’t getting a view into your home.
  • Consider covering the camera lens on your device with a post-it note when not in use.

It’s important for students to recognize that they have a role in protecting not only their own privacy, but the privacy of their classmates and teachers, too. Parents are encouraged to review the online learning etiquette tips for students published in the SOCSD Distance Learning Parent Guide released on March 27:

  • Students are not permitted to audio or video record any lessons nor alter any previously recorded lessons given or posted by teachers. No pictures, recordings or videos may be taken during live lessons.
  • When not speaking, make sure to mute your audio.
  • Speak clearly and in a normal voice.
  • Avoid interrupting others as they are speaking.
  • Limit getting up and walking around during a live lesson.
  • Use the text chat box to ask questions.
  • Identify yourself before you speak.
  • Alert others in your household that you will be on a live video.
  • You are responsible for all activity associated with your username.
  • Do not post or share your personal contact information or anyone else’s.
  • Do not post or share anything that is not required for an assignment.