Spokane Schools implements cyber security measures with laptop distribution underway

SPOKANE, Wash. – The first day of class is getting closer for students in Spokane Public Schools. Laptop distributions are underway at a few schools.

Parents and students walked into North Central High School Friday to pick up their assigned Chromebooks.

To help students be successful learning from home, each student in the district will be getting a laptop. It comes ready with the applications it needs for students to just log on and start learning September 14.

“Are you ready for the start of school,” Assistant Principal Tami McCracken asked a student walking into the library. She checked students in before sending them to another staff member to get a laptop.

Mother Jamie Lawrence was sitting with her daughter Kathryn Friday morning, setting up their laptops. Jamie feels a little more relieved with the structured online school days this fall.

“It’s different. It’s a new experience, even though we did it last spring, I think this will be a completely different experience doing it in the fall. It’s a lot more organized. I feel a lot better about it,” she said.

While the Lawrence family has a computer at home, they still signed up to get one through the school.

“It’s nice having this with all the apps on it already,” Kathryn said.

When students and parents get their laptops, staff will ask them to open it up at the school to make sure they’ll be able to log on and get connected to the district’s network. The laptops will update, and then they’ll be able to take it home to use.

Some schools also may have already done that for kids, too.

“In that way, we’re able to ensure that our filters are set up and our access is easy for the students,” McCracken said.

The district set up a filter on the laptops to make sure students aren’t going on websites where they’re not supposed to. These are the same filters the district uses on the computers in school.

“We use a program called Absolute. It allows us to see who’s using the device, if it’s being used for educational purposes, where they’re physically located. Our IT department has the ability to lock out the device and make it unusable,” said Scott Kerwien, the director of technology and information for SPS.

Students won’t be able to download anything onto the laptops, either, unless it’s approved by the district.

“A lot of our students will be accessing our district approved applications and solutions through Clever. It’s one place where students go, they log in once and there are a series of tiles for different applications they’ll be using in school,” Kerwien said. “That’s how they kind of use our programs, they don’t need to download anything new.”

If any tech issues do come up during class, teachers are trained to troubleshoot it. If they can’t fix it, there will be a support line and an email for students to contact.

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About 700 students received their laptops this week at North Central High. The school hopes to give all 1,600 students their own laptop by the start of the school year.

The laptops being distributed were purchased with money from a bond voters passed in 2018.

Kerwien says the district is about a year and a half to three quarters into the process for the one-to-one model they were planning for before the pandemic. When the schools shut down in the spring, they bought 2,600 additional laptops to give to families to take home.

Some families are using older laptops, and Kerwien says they’ll be replaced later this fall so kids can stay connected better.

Each laptop is assigned to a specific student and families are asked to fill out a liability form.

“Part of it is to track damage and that piece of thing, but part of it also is what we’re trying to do in school, too, is to assign devices to students, and show them what it means digitally responsible and taking care of technology,” Kerwien said.

While not everyone needs a laptop at home, students are encouraged to check out a school-issued laptops to have all their programs readily available on one computer.

“If the teachers are going to go out of their way to make sure everyone has a book, or a laptop, I want to go out and get one so I have 100 percent chance of doing what I need to do without any casualties at all,” said sophomore student Mateo Cooper.

School is only a few short weeks away, and giving students their laptop is just another piece placed in a puzzle.

“There still is some learning for them to do, but the first hurdle is taking care of them by having a device in hand,” McCracken said.

“I feel more confident about it because there’s not going to be four different platforms and the teachers aren’t going to, like, not know what they’re doing anymore,” Kathryn said about going into the fall semester online.

Schools should soon – if they haven’t already – contact parents for dates and times of when laptops will be handed out. It will go on for the next two weeks until school starts.

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