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Credit: CBS News

Miami-Dade schools still fending off cyberattacks in first week of school year

As Florida’s largest school district continues to be plagued by network outages and cyberattacks during the first week of school, officials revealed that a $15.3 million contract with the online platform at the center of the crisis was never signed.

Ron Steiger, the Miami-Dade County school district’s chief financial officer, made the announcement Wednesday during a school board meeting to discuss the failures of K12’s online platform, My School Online, the Miami Herald reported. He said the contract was missing the signature of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

The coronavirus pandemic caused officials to delay the start of classes from mid-August to Aug. 31, when students started the school year in a virtual format. But scores of students and teachers have not been able to access the online system.

The Herald reported the school district hasn’t made the contract public under Florida’s public records law. School board members have been asking to see the contract, but the district has cited an exemption that allows districts to purchase curriculum without board approval.

The school board has been overwhelmed with complaints from parents following three days of outages and failures. Some saw a way out of the K12 contract, the newspaper reported.

“How did we get here and how do we fix this and how do we get kids learning ASAP?” asked board member Marta Perez. She wanted to hear directly from K12, but the vote failed in committee.

The school district’s Chief Academic Officer Marie Izquierdo said officials are working on a solution.

“We do have a long weekend ahead of us,” she said, adding that the alternative would be to revert to the plan that worked when the pandemic started in the spring, when every teacher used whatever platform they felt most comfortable using.

Parents complained then that it was too confusing to navigate multiple platforms. And the district could only measure one-time log-ins, not sustained participation, which is a feature offered by My School Online.

Izquierdo said the district doesn’t have a uniform learning management system like other school districts use. Broward County, for example, uses a system called Canvas.

On Wednesday night, an email was sent to all secondary teachers asking them to use Microsoft Teams and Zoom until Sept. 11. The district will then assess if grades six through 12 will use K12 beginning Sept. 14 or stick with Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

Izquierdo said the K12 platform was not “operating effectively” on a national level for secondary education.

The company said in an emailed statement to the Herald that network outages affected the online platform, adding that the company understood the district’s decision to stop using My School Online for grades six through 12.

Wednesday saw some improvement for teachers and students attempting to log onto the system, despite 12 cyberattacks that occurred during the morning hours, district officials said. More attacks continued throughout the day, the Herald reported.

District officials have determined the cyberattackers have demanded no ransom, and some of the attacks came from outside the U.S.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has requested a briefing with the Department of Homeland Security on cybersecurity as it relates to school districts.

“It now appears that hostile actors, including foreign cybercriminals, are now targeting online classrooms in order to further disrupt the lives of Americans,” he said in an emailed statement.

Author: CBS News
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