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U.S. ED, CISA Form Council to Tackle School Cybersecurity

The new Government Coordinating Council will work with all levels of government to open channels of structured communication and put best practices into action in K-12 districts nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) announced a new federal council today to improve cybersecurity in K-12 schools nationwide.

The new Government Coordinating Council (GCC) for the Education Facilities Subsector, one of 16 sectors of critical infrastructure designated by the federal government, will be responsible for collaborating with federal, state, local and tribal governments through regular, structured communications and sharing best practices, according to a news release today.

This initiative was prompted by the growing complexity of the K-12 cybersecurity landscape and ransomware attacks across the country that have shut down schools or exposed sensitive personal information of students, educators and families, federal officials said.

“The GCC embodies our commitment to ensuring the cybersecurity of our nation’s schools,” Cindy Marten, U.S. deputy secretary of education, said in a public statement. “This initiative represents a monumental step forward in formalizing the partnership between federal, state, and local educational leaders in protecting our K-12 critical infrastructure.”

This launch follows the “Back to School Safely” K-12 Cybersecurity Summit that took place at the White House in August. During that event, the U.S. Department of Education and federal officials outlined a plan to improve data protection measures in schools through grant opportunities, public information campaigns and partnerships with ed-tech companies and education advocacy groups.

Although two federal agencies coordinated the launch, officials said that technology leaders, school principals and superintendents, and a variety of leaders from state and educational service agencies, provided input in GCC’s strategy and direction.

“The importance of protecting our schools, students, and educators from cyber threats cannot be overstated. I’m very proud of the work the Department of Education and CISA are doing in this critical area, working collaboratively with the K-12 community,” CISA Director Jen Easterly said in a public statement. “I am especially excited that the Education Facilities Subsector Government Coordinating Council is being launched today; it will have a vital role in helping to guide efforts to ensure a safer and more resilient learning environment for our classrooms across the nation.”

While the GCC announced today is new, the Executive Branch’s official responsibility for protecting schools as a critical infrastructure has been in place for over a decade under Presidential Policy Directive 21, according to the White House website. The Education Facilities Subsector falls under the Government Facilities Sector, one of 16 critical infrastructure sectors listed in the directive.

“The Nation’s critical infrastructure provides the essential services that underpin American society. Proactive and coordinated efforts are necessary to strengthen and maintain secure, functioning, and resilient critical infrastructure — including assets, networks, and systems — that are vital to public confidence and the Nation’s safety, prosperity, and well-being,” the directive states.