The Arkansas School Safety Commission addressed cybersecurity concerns during its meeting Tuesday, approving a recommendation that would require anyone who uses district-issued digital devices to receive annual cybersecurity awareness training.
The commission plans to release a final report on its recommendations to the governor by Oct. 1.
While school safety is often focused on physical security, commission chair Cheryl May noted that things like surveillance cameras and visitor management systems are integrated into a school’s network. Such systems could be affected if that network were compromised, she said.
Additionally, the theft of students’ personal information could make them targets for bullying or human trafficking, May said.
“If a ransomware does occur, then that information can be sold on the dark web, and so our children can become targets that way, which is not a good thing for their safety,” she said.
May is also chair of the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium, which offers a free, two-hour, online class on cybersecurity in the workforce. Using this course is one way districts could meet the annual training recommendation at no additional cost, she said.
The commission approved eight recommendations Tuesday, including three submitted by the physical security subcommittee, which recommended dedicating at least 20 minutes of required three-hour annual bus driver training to bus security. The proposal would add physical security items to the existing Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation’s maintenance and operations facility inspection checklist and require immediate repair or replacement of faulty locks.
Two of the commission’s recommendations dealt with coordination between school districts and community partners. The first proposal recommended that every county have a full-time, local emergency manager who could assist local districts with exercises and act as a conduit between local needs and state or federal resources.
The second recommendation suggested that districts with a Commissioned School Security Officer program work with local law enforcement to establish a plan for a joint response during an active-shooter incident.
The mental health prevention subcommittee proposed that the Arkansas Center for School Safety, a state agency, coordinate a planning group to develop a statewide, confidential school safety hotline where Arkansans can report suspected threats. The hotline would also serve as a resource for students who are seeking support for challenges like bullying or self-harm, said commissioner Lori Poston, vice president of clinical services for Arisa Health’s northeast region.
“While the tip line would not serve as a substitute for a school counselor or mental health care, the school safety tip line would serve as another layer of a safety net for our students,” Poston said.
This subcommittee also submitted a revised proposal that recommended the development of school crisis response teams at the state, regional, district and campus levels to help mitigate the negative effects of traumatic school incidents.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson reinstated the Arkansas School Safety Commission in June following the deaths of 21 students and teachers in a Uvalde, Texas school shooting. The governor released the group’s interim report Aug. 2. The commission’s next meeting is Sept. 13.
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