Cyberattacks may once have been thought of as a danger primarily in the corporate sector but school districts have not been immune.

The Educational Services Commission of New Jersey, which advocates for and provides services to students with various developmental disabilities, has been working with Dellicker Strategies on a "Cybersecurity Framework" to provide to its partner schools, colleges, and municipalities, to help them ward off the threat.

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Vendors in the co-op are now being made available to districts that might feel their computer systems are not quite as secure as they'd like.

"A growing number of districts and other entities have expressed an interest in addressing their cybersecurity concerns," Finkelstein said, adding that the problem is "critically important to address as soon as possible."

'Everyone needs to feel comfortable that their personal information ... is secure'

While a school cyberattack might not carry the monetary consequences of a credit card breach or identity theft, databases could include both student and parent names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and the same for staff as well.

"Everyone needs to feel comfortable that their personal information, student or staff member, regardless of where one works, is secure," Finkelstein said.

He also said in some cases, years' worth of curricula written by educators have been wiped out by cyberattacks.

And the issue has come into even sharper focus given the electronic devices many students are now assigned by schools, plus the "digital divide" of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Finkelstein, ESCNJ's framework is designed to cater to schools and districts that already have plans in place to tighten their defenses against these attacks — and those that don't.

"The opportunity is there to have their existing plan reviewed to ascertain whether, in fact, it is in their best interests or whether they need to modify it," he said.

'The experts who deal with this ... can be with them very quickly'

To start and implement a cybersecurity plan from scratch, Finkelstein said, is a three- to six-month process, which must be in place by June 30 to satisfy liability insurance renewals for the 2022-23 school year.

So, the clock is ticking.

Even for districts that have started the process, Finkelstein said the writing of procedures, training of staffers, and the actual updating of technology all takes time.

But he said he wants parents to know that ESCNJ is working hard on their behalf, not only to put those parents at ease, but also to save their children's school districts some money.

"We really hope that they'll take advantage of our co-op and contact the experts who deal with this, who can be with them very quickly," Finkelstein said.

For more information, visit escnj.us.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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