Keeping Students Safe Online

Administrators, educators, school staff, students, and families across the nation have responded to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and transitioned to the “school at home” setting. This shift to students learning and teachers and faculty teaching from home is an example of continuity of teaching and learning services (#COOPTeachandLearn), a critical component of continuity of operations (COOP) planning for education agencies.

Distance education, or remote learning, has dramatically increased the use of digital learning formats across the nation, and, since students are learning online more, they are also vulnerable to more threats. Such threats may include an increase in cyberbullying, inappropriate content, sexting, sextortion/ransomware, oversharing, and online predation. Phishing emails, text messages, and scams with COVID-19 themes are currently trending.

The U.S. Department of Education (the Department), Office of Safe and Supportive Schools (OSSS) and its Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) TA Center recognize the continued service and dedication of school safety partners, including families, to the safety of students during this challenging time. To support educators and families with protecting youth in all settings and all times, including online and during “school at home,” the REMS TA Center created two resources on this critical topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cyber safety is a shared responsibility of students, families (children, youth, parents, and guardians), and school personnel, and we encourage you to review these free trainings and products that may assist you as you lead your whole school community into a culture of preparedness; responsible, safe, and secure digital citizenship; and #SchoolSafetyAtHome.

Cyber Safety and Cybersecurity

  • Cyber Safety Quick Links for Protecting Youth: Empowering Students to Become Responsibly Digital Citizens and Engage Online Safely. In this TA Snapshot, the REMS TA Center provides key preparedness and response considerations for COVID-19 and gives school safety teams, families, and students key practical steps and quick links to websites offering cyber safety resources, tools, and training. Together, communities, led by school safety teams, can enhance their cyber safety knowledge and capabilities of the whole school community by using this new TA Snapshot.
  • Dear School Safety Partner: Cybersecurity and Cyber Safety. In this TA Snapshot, the REMS TA Center describes cybersecurity for schools and steps education agencies can take, with the collaboration of parents, to protect student privacy while increasing the use of digital learning and video-sharing platforms in response to COVID-19. School safety teams can learn about threats facing school and school district networks and systems, as well as REMS TA Center resources in the context of cyber threats in the school setting.
  • TA Snapshots is a new publication provided by REMS TA Center to include a list of direct responses to inquiries made from school administrators and staff, district administrators, state education agency and regional education agency personnel, educators, parents, students, school safety leaders, and community partners topics such as school safety, security, and emergency preparedness.
  • Cyber Tipline. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a free national tipline for people to report any threats. The CyberTipline can be contacted in the following ways: call 1-800-843-5678 or visit Cyber Tipline.
  • Keeping Your Child Safe Learning Online. This blog by the Office of Education Technology, helps parents and families understand student data privacy considerations and provides strategies to keep students safe while learning at home. This blog is part of an extended series, Keep Calm and Connect All Schools, to assist efforts and address the challenges students, families, teachers, school leaders, and States are facing as they shift to distance learning during this health crisis.

Emergency Operations Plan Enhancement

Actual emergencies often provide new information that can be used to inform emergency operations plans (EOPs). COVID-19 and the recent transition to school at home highlight the need to review and update Cyber Annexes that address safety and security before, during, and after possible incidents. We encourage you to remember that the review, evaluation, revision, and continual enhancement of EOPs are best done by a collaborative and multidisciplinary group that has roles and responsibilities in implementing the plan and creating related policies and programs. Use our online training opportunities and resources below that we created with Federal partners and practitioners to learn more about Cyber Annexes.

Emergency Operations Plans

Emergency Exercises

Conducting exercises is an integral part of school safety and is one of the most effective ways to evaluate the EOP and emergency procedures. The more a plan is practiced and tested and the more stakeholders are trained on the plan, the more effectively the whole school community will act before, during, and after an emergency to lessen the impact on life and property. The exercise continuum (e.g., tabletops, simulations, drills) provides opportunities to practice with community partners, validate courses of action, and identify any gaps and weaknesses in the plan. Ideally, education agencies will create an exercise program and related training program, building from a discussion-based exercise, such as a tabletop exercise, up to an operations-based exercise, such as a drill or functional exercise. Not only do exercises promote school and community preparedness, but they also help develop and foster effective relationships with community partners, clarify the roles and responsibilities of school staff and community partners, assess the availability of resources and capabilities to respond to emergencies, and identify areas in need of improvement.

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