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Virginia Schools Look to Purchase 1,300 Laptops for District

Citing a mix of cybersecurity concerns and the likelihood that online education will be used again this year due to COVID-19, IT officials with Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools asked for the computers.

child using laptop to study
(TNS) — Attempts to compromise Williamsburg-James City County, Va., Public Schools’ I.T. systems via cyberattacks, hacks, spam, or ransomware occur every day, Director for Technology Brian Landers told the School Board as it backed a contract for more than 1,300 new laptops on Tuesday.

Landers requested School Board permission for the purchase of 310 replacement staff laptops, 1,025 replacement middle school student laptops, insurance and extended services for $808,297. The purchase uses the state contract with Lenovo and comes a month after the board backed a $1.7 million investment in 534 new high school laptops, 533 elementary laptops and 1,600 elementary tablets funded via the CARES Act.

The expansion in laptops allows “one to one” laptop access to all K through 12 students, giving the division more flexibility if COVID-19 forces a continuation of remote learning in September.

However, cybersecurity remains a constant concern to WJCC schools and other divisions, board members heard.

School Board member Sandra Young said many school divisions’ systems have been hacked and asked about WJCC’s cybersecurity.

“Attempts are made every day against our division,” Landers said. “We are constantly battling attempts to get into our network. Anything from simple spam emails to ransomware attacks, we see them on a daily basis.”

Landers said a firewall installed last year was “huge in protecting our division and our students’ and staff data.”

“We are constantly vigilant keeping them patched, maintained and up-to-date, crossing our fingers that our vigilance will be successful,” Landers said.

However, Schools Superintendent Olwen Herron pointed out a proposal for an additional position to work on network security was eliminated from the 2020-21 budget because of cuts.

“It’s something we need to keep in the back of our minds because that’s a growing issue daily for our technology department,” she said.

Board chair Lisa Ownby asked what the division does to ensure that the laptops are safe for students to use at home.

Landers said in the past year the division added a new software component to every device called Global Protect.

“No matter where that device is in the world once it connects to the internet it is automatically tunneled back to our firewall,” he said. “All of our filters, all of our protections are in place no matter where that device may be.”

The School Board backed the purchase of the replacement laptops Tuesday.

©2020 The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.