Student data system secure, private | NevadaAppeal.com

Student data system secure, private

Churchill County School District’s local servers have been running strong, 24/7, for years, said network engineer Dan Slentz, owner of Oasis Online and who runs four Nevada school districts’ technology infrastructure including Churchill’s.
Aly Lawson / LVN |

With Churchill County School District’s state-mandated technology adoption of the Infinite Campus software and online tool, family data security has been a top issue for some.

CCSD Board of Trustee meetings have revealed people have questions about the new system’s implementation, which involves parent, student and staff portals for inputting, viewing and managing student and school-related information. Infinite Campus, which manages the personal information of millions of students, ensures the highest level of security.

Hot topics in the technology security industry and communities have been protection against hackers, data mining or sharing personal data with third parties as well as what student information is being collected and who sees it.

“Our students’ data is our highest priority in maintaining student privacy within the rules of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act),” said Greg Bortolin, Nevada Department of Education public information officer.

Glenn Meyer, information technology director for the department’s data systems office, explained there are steps the state takes internally to ensure security elements are in place and no holes exist including regular audits, test exercises and employee training.

He confirmed that as for the school-pertinent data, it’s collected at the school level and stored on secure servers until the alumni archival period is over. Mainly aggregate-only data, essentially data not tied to an individual, must be reported to the state for decision-making purposes. No student-level data ever leaves the state — only the required aggregate data for decision-making at the federal level.

Also no third parties are ever involved, he said.

“Infinite campus is not allowed — it would be a breach of their contract — if they shared any student information or data with anyone that we didn’t tell them to,” he said, emphasizing it’s part of the Infinite Campus product foundation to protect student data.

Meyer added that teachers can only view their students’ information; principals can view all their students’ information but not other schools’ students, and CCSD has access to all their school-level data. That’s where the student’s data stops, he said, with the exception of the aggregate state-reported data. Even then, for example only those employees who deal with enrollment have access to those counts.

Meyer recommended parents take a look at the department’s data dictionary to see what aggregate information the state sees. The dictionary can be found at http://www.doe.nv.gov under “Data/Reports” then “Student Data Privacy.”

Network engineer Dan Slentz, owner of Oasis Online, runs four Nevada school districts’ technology infrastructure including Churchill’s.

“We’re the boots on the ground,” Slentz said, going over how the state has a server farm at a secure, undisclosed location, and the district has a local secure server bank for the staff’s work computers.

Slentz discussed how the larger the data population, the juicier it becomes for a hacker — so bigger targets such as the Apple cloud and of course celebrities are more of a draw.

Trustee Carmen Schank said she understands any system can be hacked, for example the Banner Health organization experienced a cyber attack this summer related to unauthorized access to computer systems that process payment card data at food and beverage outlets at some Banner locations.

“That’s always a concern,” she said. “I want to become informed and understand the issue.”

Every district has a data management specialist in Infinite Campus such as Churchill’s Annalisa Stark as well as taking steps that would be taken in the unlikely event of a breach. There are also numerous built-in security tools, constant monitoring as well as continuous backup and disaster recovery.

Dr. Sandra Sheldon, superintendent of schools, said she’s very confident the Infinite Campus program is secure and private.

“It is locked down,” she said, mentioning the district’s strong firewalls, careful regulation following and layered data access. “Only those that need to know know.”

The board will discuss this topic at the next meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Old High School auditorium.