Many School Computers Still Aren't Ready for Y2K

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The dawn of the new year may catch many schools unprepared for the Y2K computer bug, a U.S. Department of Education survey suggests.


The government's Y2K logo.

"I'd be very surprised if we didn't see 1,000 to 1,500 schools shut down,'' Marshall S. Smith, the department's acting deputy secretary, said at a press conference held here last week to release the survey's results. The nation has about 91,000 schools.

Of the nearly 1,000 school districts that completed the survey in September, 36 percent said their districts had not yet prepared all their "mission critical" computer systems for problems they could encounter as the calendar rolls over to 2000. Individual respondents decided which systems were mission-critical, but they typically include business operations, fire protection, security, and transportation.

Four percent of districts said that at least some mission-critical systems would not be ready by Jan. 1.

The results show some improvement over last June, when, in a similar survey by the Education Department, 72 percent out of 3,500 districts said they had mission-critical systems that were not Y2K- compliant. At that time, however, only 2 percent said those systems would not be ready by Jan. 1. ("Survey: Districts Still Not Prepared for Year 2000 Glitch," Sept. 9, 1999.)

The latest survey also shows that many districts haven't debugged many other computer functions that, although not deemed mission-critical, are important to school operations.

For example, 14 percent of districts said they did not expect all their infrastructure componentswhich include heating and telecommunicationsto be ready by the first of the year.

Trust, But Verify

In addition, only 56 percent of survey respondents said they had completed contingency plans to cope with potential Y2K disruptions, and only 83 percent said they would have contingency plans in place by Jan. 1.

Mr. Smith recommended that districts spend the next 65 days completing such plans and checking key systems that affect student safety and essential business operations. He also encouraged parents and students to ask their districts to provide independent confirmation of the adequacy of their Y2K fixes.

The Y2K bug derives from the once-common programming practice of representing each year by just the final two digits. Errors could result when the year rolls over to "00."

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 3

Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as Many School Computers Still Aren't Ready for Y2K
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