Back-to-school tips for education networks

While it may seem like just yesterday that the bell rang on the last day of the school year, in short order the kids will be back in school for the next academic year. Summer is a time for students and teachers to relax, but not for IT administrators and staff. This period when kids are not present is a critical time to upgrade the network and make sure everything connecting to it is in working order.

In particular, K-12 education IT staff should be sure to do the following before school is back in session:

1) Secure additional funding if possible

While E-Rate may be the most popular source of funding out there for cash-strapped schools, it’s far from the only dedicated source of money for network-specific applications. Many states and other public agencies offer similar programs, as do non-profits. Granted, it’s far more ideal to have these funds in place before school ends so they can be used appropriately in summer, but having this additional spend can go a long way toward supporting networking initiatives during July and August.

2) Ensure compliance

Primary and secondary schools have many laws and regulations to abide by, but in an IT sense, none may be as important as CIPA. The Children’s Internet Protection Act details what kinds of content students can and cannot see from a school computer or from a device connected to the network. The summer months are an opportune moment for IT staff to conduct a thorough audit of the network and school-owned machines to make sure that everything is compliant and up to par with the most recent language of the law.

3) Update the wireless networking capabilities

At too many schools, the network was not built with wireless connectivity in mind. This is increasingly problematic, especially as tablets and 1:1 programs become more commonplace. As such, what wireless features and capabilities are in place may not be ideal, especially as it relates to security and compliance concerns. One way to address this challenge is by updating the Wi-Fi connectivity rules so that all mobile devices can only get onto the network through a dedicated VPN. That way, network rules will apply to all mobile hardware no matter where on premises it is located.

4) Repair or replace all broken hardware and malfunctioning software

This one is a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. The time when students are out for the summer is ideal for taking stock of every single thing and making sure it’s totally ready to go and in line with standards. By conducting a thorough review and taking inventory, IT staff can get a sense of what is good to go for the following year, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be replaced wholesale. The earlier this can be done in the summer the better, to ensure that enough time is available to get everything in working order before students and teachers are back.

5) Implement new web filtering rules

As threats to the network evolve, so too should defenses. Web filtering is a key component of ensuring compliance, although what was put in place many months or even years ago may not cut it in 2016 and 2017. The relative quiet of July and August provides IT teams with ample opportunity to look into the effectiveness of the existing web filters and potential new ones to set up to make the network even safer and more robust.

6) Check on the firewalls

Firewalls remain a key tool for keeping malicious traffic off of the network, but legacy network gatekeepers may be doing more harm than good. Old firewalls are often either too weak to keep out the bulk of new threats, or they’re too tight and prevent both students and teachers from effectively accessing testing websites, video content or other web tools. The IT team in a K-12 district should use the time between school years to run a thorough audit of the existing firewalls to see if they’re working well or need to be replaced with a next-generation option.

Summer is time off for students and teachers, but not for IT admins. While school will be back in session in no time, there’s still a lot IT staff can do now to make sure that the network is ready to go once students return.