Infrastructure

Other E-Mail Headaches

By Michelle R. Davis — September 12, 2007 3 min read

On every school day, thousands of e-mails fly through school district cyberspace. While e-mail has become a routine and seemingly indispensable part of district operations, it can cause some real headaches for information-technology directors.

Breakdowns in security, inappropriate use, and the sheer volume of electronic communications are some of the problems that districts grapple with, says Linda Sharp, the director of cyber security for the digital-district project at the Consortium for School Networking. The Washington-based CoSN is an advocacy group for educational technology.

“We don’t spend the time we need to on staff development—teaching people appropriate e-mail etiquette and procedures and how to manage their e-mail,” Sharp says. “Those are critical issues.”

On the question of security, she says, employees often resist changing passwords periodically, or leave their passwords in full view as reminders to themselves. But if a student gets a teacher’s password and accesses the e-mail account, private correspondence between the teacher and parents, for example, would be at risk. The student also would be able to send e-mails under the teacher’s name or even get into data, grades, and other private records elsewhere in the system, Sharp says.

See Also

Read the main story,

E-Mail Alert!

In addition, with revised Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requiring that school districts archive their e-mail, possibly for extended periods of time, it’s particularly important, she says, that district employees know they need to have a personal e-mail address as well.

“You don’t want your personal e-mail archived with the school system’s e-mail,” Sharp says, referring to employees who use their office addresses for e-mail exchanges not related to work.

Every employee should be aware that e-mails are not private and can be read by information-technology staff members at any time, she says.

“We need to make sure teachers understand that everything they write in e-mail, it’s just as if they printed it out and hung it up for everyone to see,” she says. “The tech leaders can retrieve almost any e-mail sent or received.”

Inappropriate Use

Though most school systems require that employees sign a policy on e-mail use that lists what is permitted and not permitted on school e-mail, most don’t read it or remember it, Sharp says.

Misuse can get employees into serious trouble. Last year, 20 teachers and other staff members in the 84,000-student Jefferson County, Colo., school district lost their jobs for sending pornographic and other inappropriate e-mails, says Lynn Setzer, a district spokeswoman.

“When you’re at work, you have to be aware of the kinds of e-mails you’re looking at and passing along,” Setzer says. “People can get complacent sometimes about looking at things that other people would find offensive. In a school district, you must be hypervigilant.”

In Jefferson County, newly hired employees sign an e-mail policy that maps out what is acceptable to send and receive, she says.

But after last year’s incident, the district put in place a pop-up message that appears when employees log into the school’s computer system, which tracks personnel data such as salaries and vacation time. The pop-up requires employees to check a box saying they’re aware of the e-mail policy. If an employee does not check the box, he or she can still get into the system, but the pop-up message appears every time that person logs in. If the employee checks the box, the message does not appear again.

Spam and Viruses

Computer viruses and e-mail spam are also critical issues for school districts, as they are for other workplaces.

The 98,000-student Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District near Houston was hit several years ago by a virus that entered the district computer system through e-mail, says Harold Rowe, the associate superintendent for technology and school services.

“We were affected and ended up having some down time,” he says. “Some of the lifeblood of school districts revolves around e-mail, so it was a problem.”

The district already had a spam filter and anti-viral software programs in place. But after the attack, it installed another layer of filtration. Now e-mails are filtered for junk mail before they reach the district by a third-party filtering device, then filtered again once they get inside the district system, Rowe says.

“We’re knocking on wood,” he says, “that this multilayered approach will work.”

Related Tags:

Michelle R. Davis is a contributing writer for Education Week and Digital Directions.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Building Leadership Excellence Through Instructional Coaching
Join this webinar for a discussion on instructional coaching and ways you can link your implement or build on your program.
Content provided by Whetstone Education/SchoolMint
Teaching Webinar Tips for Better Hybrid Learning: Ask the Experts What Works
Register and ask your questions about hybrid learning to our expert panel.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
Family Engagement for Student Success With Dr. Karen Mapp
Register for this free webinar to learn how to empower and engage families for student success featuring Karen L. Mapp.
Content provided by Panorama Education & PowerMyLearning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

2021-2022 Teacher (Districtwide)
Dallas, TX, US
Dallas Independent School District
[2021-2022] Founding Middle School Academic Dean
New York, NY, US
DREAM Charter School
DevOps Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Senior Business Analyst - 12 Month Contract
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Infrastructure Whitepaper
The Value of Automation in K-12 Schools Back Office
Download this eBook to learn more about how automation can help improve and streamline operations for K-12 school districts' back-office ...
Content provided by SAP Concur
Infrastructure Half of Districts Lack Connectivity Needed for Widespread Videoconferencing, Device Usage
Two-thirds of America's public school students attend schools that may not provide enough bandwidth for life after COVID-19.
3 min read
.
iStock/Getty
Infrastructure Internet Access Is a Civil Rights Issue
In the world’s wealthiest country, why is broadband access denied to so many and in such high numbers? Mark Lieberman investigates.
7 min read
v40 6BI ML IMG
Illustration by Jamiel Law
Infrastructure Schools Handed Out Millions of Digital Devices Under COVID-19. Now, Thousands Are Missing
Some districts are scrambling to account for thousands of devices—a task made more urgent by the uncertainty over when students will be able to return to school buildings full-time.
5 min read
1 Laptops ARTICLE
Getty