If you’re worried about whether your schools are ready for the year 2000 (Y2K), they probably aren’t. But help is on the way.

The U.S. Department of Education is sending your school district a new guide to help you cope with potential Y2K problems, Education Secretary Richard W. Riley announced Feb. 12. And you can get a web version of the manual right now (see Links).

Produced with the Council of the Great City Schools, the document–“Squashing the Millennium Bug: A Year 2000 Compliance Guide for Elementary/Secondary Schools and School Districts”–contains a 57-point checklist, computer tests, web resources, sample letters to vendors, contract clauses, and other suggestions you can use to ensure that your computer systems function properly on Jan. 1 and beyond.

“We want to do all we can to help elementary and secondary schools resolve the year 2000 issue,” Riley said. “This guide has dozens of practical tips and we strongly encourage the duplication and distribution of this material to others.”

“Because the millennium bug has the potential to stop a school or school district from functioning, nothing should be more important than addressing the Y2K problem,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition representing the nation’s largest urban public school systems.

Among the highlights of the 70-page handbook:

• A 57-point checklist that helps educators determine which systems might be affected by the Y2K bug. Obvious computer devices are mentioned, as well as not-so-apparent equipment like heating systems, food refrigeration units, security systems, televisions, and elevators.

• Computer tests you can use to determine whether equipment correctly rolls over to 2000, as well as testing for next year’s leap year. Ironically, 2000 will be the first time in 400 years that the beginning of a new century will include a leap day–Feb. 29. That’s because, the guide explains, years divisible by 100 are ordinarily not leap years–except if they are divisible by 400.

• Web site addresses for helping determine whether computers, software, networks, office equipment, and embedded devices such as utilities and heating systems are Y2K compliant.

• Sample letters to vendors inquiring if equipment is compliant, will be made compliant, or can’t be made compliant.

• Contract and procurement language with suggested wording to ensure schools enter into agreements to ensure that new equipment will be delivered Y2K-OK.

• A web site address for America’s Job Bank to locate programmers who can assist in Y2K renovation.

• A 12-step guide for contingency planning–just in case something happens despite the best efforts to avoid a Y2K crash.

• Web addresses for more than a dozen valuable Y2K sites (see Links below).

The handbook includes a section on “Key Dates to Consider,” noting that one of the first big hurdles to clear will be Sept. 9, 1999. The problem is that “9-9-99” is commonly used to indicate an unknown date in six-character data entry fields that do not require a leading zero. Early programmers used the notation because it was easy to type and yet far enough in the future to be easily differentiated from “real” dates.

“As 9-9-99 nears, it will become impossible for the computer user to know if the entry is valid or not,” the guide states.

The following day, Sept. 10, could also be a problem. In systems that used 9-9-99 as a never-expire date, computer code that prevents deletion of data before that date might fail. In that case, entries that should be protected forever might not be, the handbook warns.