School districts rely too heavily on technical solutions to protect their networks and buildings, and they need to focus more attention on communicating and educating their students about physical and cyber dangers–that’s one of the key findings in technology reseller CDW-G’s "School Safety Index," a research project benchmarking the current status of public K-12 school district safety.

For instance, the survey reports that just 8 percent of districts provide internet safety training to students, despite the dangers of identity theft, physical security, and the potential impact that posting inappropriate content can have on a student’s college and career plans. Districts report that they rely more on filtering software to protect networks than on actively engaging students to be part of the safety solution.

The survey of 381 school district IT and security directors focuses on the indicators of strong school district safety programs, as well as the barriers to school safety. CDW-G designed the survey to evaluate districts’ current cyber and physical security measures, understand the impact of education and communication on cyber and physical security, and understand the proliferation of computer security breaches in schools. The "School Safety Index" reveals that districts are having greater success with cyber security than physical security. Some key findings are:


• Tech-savvy students are putting their district’s network and themselves at risk by sidestepping IT security procedures through measures such as proxy servers;
• Districts rely heavily on the telephone, and not enough on emerging methods, to communicate with faculty and parents during emergencies; and
• A lack of budget, staff resources, and proper security tools limits the ability of school districts to protect themselves.

"The ‘School Safety Index’ helps educational stakeholders understand the broad spectrum of tools available to them to improve both cyber and physical security," said Bob Kirby, senior director of K-12 education for CDW-G. "CDW-G examined a broad range of security topics–from data monitoring and building access, to security software and safety education. The index shows the potential for schools to do more–especially in the areas of safety education and emerging communication technologies."

Although many districts are monitoring their students’ internet activity (81 percent of respondents), blocking access to inappropriate web sites (95 percent), and placing computer monitors in view of adults (89 percent), only 38 percent said they have closed district networks to provide more control over communication and access to content.

A new challenge for school IT directors, however, is the growing sophistication of tech-savvy students, who have figured out how to build proxy sites to get around closed networks.

Nearly every district reported having an acceptable-use policy (AUP)–but, as with any kind of policy, AUPs are only effective if frequently disseminated and reviewed with users. Thirty-seven percent of districts surveyed said they update their AUPs 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 … to access these sites," Kirby noted.

Districts identified budget constraints, too few human resources, a lack of defined policies, hardware or software barriers, and a lack of user participation as hurdles to improving IT security.

Despite these impediments to IT security, districts scored much lower on CDW-G’s physical safety index. Sixty-three percent of districts said they are using security cameras, with many more considering their use over the next two years–but only 24 percent of districts report having real-time access to sex offender databases. The survey also shows that districts have room to improve their emergency communication programs. During a campus emergency, districts report using intercom systems most often (48 percent of respondents) to convey information to faculty. Phone calls are the preferred method for reaching parents in an emergency, at 54 percent. Only 1 percent of K-12 districts surveyed are considering mass-notification systems, such as text alerts to cell phones, CDW-G reported.

According to the study, only 35 percent of districts are connected to local authorities via the internet. Two-thirds of urban school districts said they are directly connected to emergency first responders online, but only three in 10 rural districts said they are.

"In an emergency, every moment is critical, and education is a late adopter of mass-notification systems," Kirby said. "Mass-notification systems allow districts to instantaneously reach out to any one of a number of pre-selected groups to disseminate information, from first responders to faculty to parents. They are a tool that federal, state, and local governments have embraced post-September 11, and the applications for education extend well beyond emergencies to improve overall school-to-home communication."

The survey was conducted online and by telephone by education research firm Quality Education Data. The survey has a 5 percent margin of error.


CDW-G School Safety Index 2007

Quality Education Data