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School Safety and Security with Jason Stoddard

Image 11-7-21 at 9.12 PM

You cannot separate community and school safety from each other. They simply go hand in hand. We’ve seen adults displaying lack of impulse control on airplanes and as kids go back to school, we cannot underestimate the challenges that may arise. It’s important to be prepared to know how to respond. 

Today’s guest is Jason Stoddard. Jason is the Director of School Safety and Security for the Charles County Public Schools. He is responsible for sustaining a safe learning and work environment for over 27,000 students and nearly 4,000 staff members. He is a retired police commander with over 24 years in law enforcement. 

Show Notes:

  • [0:51] – Jason describes his job and what he is responsible for.
  • [1:40] – Because of everyone’s experience in school, everyone has their own opinion of what things should be like even though things have changed.
  • [3:00] – In recent years, ransomware and hacking has been a threat to schools.
  • [4:41] – School issues have not been seen as what they really are: community issues.
  • [5:50] – Jason shares ways he builds relationships within the community for school safety.
  • [7:10] – Handle With Care is a program that is implemented in Jason’s county.
  • [8:52] – Instead of asking what’s wrong, ask the kid what has happened.
  • [11:14] – We can never over communicate what is going on. Honest conversations are necessary.
  • [12:53] – What could be the ramifications of early experiences with the criminal justice system?
  • [14:40] – When the police arrest a child that could affect their safety, Jason shares that in his county, they are required to report it to him and his team.
  • [16:01] – Jason’s county is also committed to working with law enforcement regarding gangs.
  • [18:24] – There are some services that provide social media monitoring but there are some problems with using this.
  • [20:48] – Kids need to feel comfortable bringing information forward.
  • [21:17] – Jason believes that this school year is set up for tragedy.
  • [23:22] – Any school system is built on layers. It can never be just one plan.
  • [24:58] – How do we get kids to the services they need to help them with impulse control?
  • [26:08] – School safety programs cannot force kids into mediation programs.
  • [28:10] – When students are suspended, they are missing out on their education and sometimes can’t get caught up. This creates a cycle for more misbehavior.
  • [31:15] – School systems see all the same problems everyone else sees but with the added kid component.
  • [33:19] – Malware and ransomware are huge problems right now with the increase in virtual learning.
  • [35:54] – Valuable information can be sold on the dark web.
  • [37:27] – Swatting is where someone will call into 911 to get law enforcement to respond.
  • [40:11] – Sometimes kids also hack to change their grades but are usually easily fixed.
  • [41:00] – Teachers will also sometimes write their passwords on a post-it for students to see.
  • [42:01] – Covid-19 continues to be incredibly challenging.
  • [44:57] – Stay connected with what is going on locally, nationally, and from the CDC.
  • [45:56] – The fact that this situation has been so polarizing has made policy very difficult to enforce.
  • [49:53] – Jason explains some of the issues that arose through virtual learning last year.
  • [50:55] – There are so many layers to security and a positive school climate is the key.

Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review. 

Transcript:

Can you give us a little background about who you are and what you do?

My name is Jason Stoddard. I’m the Director of School Safety and Security for the Charles County Public Schools. We’re located about 25 minutes South of Washington DC. We have about 20,000 students spread across 39 buildings. We’re the ninth largest school system in the state of Maryland.

That is a large group of students that you are responsible for.

Yeah, it definitely keeps me busy.

I wanted to talk a little bit about school safety, and security, and how things overlap. What are some of the biggest challenges that you ran across in terms of school safety and keeping your kids safe?

One of the biggest challenges in school safety, in general, is the fact that every person has spent 12, 13, 14 years in a public school. Everybody has experience on a day-to-day basis for many, many years, especially in their formative life of what schools are and their own opinions on how to keep kids safe and their own reference points.

If you were in school in the ’90s, smoking in the bathroom was a huge deal. Fast Times at Ridgemont High—that’s the place that you remember. The antiquated terms of the stoners and the jocks—that’s what you remember school being. Physical altercations occurring and then it was over with and people were done.

Now in 2021, in the 21st century, those things have changed. The number of threats that we faced changed. School shootings have been around since the 1700 and 1800s, however, they really became a hot point of contention in 1999 post-Columbine. Now we’re seeing Columbine kids that are having kids.

Technology makes some school challenges are different than they used to be.

The reference points are different. It’s much like being—for the private sector, you have multiple generations of employees. We have multiple generations of people who are having kids. They have multiple understandings of what schools are and how you keep them safe. Not until three years ago was anybody worried about ransomware attacks, cyber issues inside of our schools, and now you’re seeing it as very lucrative business for cyber-terrorist organizations to take over data.

We had a local school district near the national capital region who paid $7 million to get a portion of their data back. People don’t see that as being part of school safety. They see the terminal events of active shooter as being the only thing. They don’t necessarily see the whole scope of what school safety is and what school security is in keeping all of your babies safe.

When it comes to physical safety, I’m out here in Southern California where there’s probably been more gang violence in schools over the years. Obviously, when I was in school, the biggest thing that ever happened on campus was someone smoking in the bathrooms. There were the occasional fights, which you get suspended for two days and everything’s back to normal.

LA County is definitely a more prominent type of gang activity on campus. What are the points where students, teachers, faculty, and staff can help the kids stay safe, and what are the warning signs they should be watching for?

To build upon your point, community issues are school issues and school issues are community issues. The old adage of “It takes a village to raise a child” is very true. It’s just as true today in 2021 as it was 20, 30 years ago, and probably more so today because of how worldly kids are so much younger. I think the government works best when it’s collaborative. School issues, for far too long, have been seen in silos—that’s a school issue. It’s not a government issue, it’s not a department social services issue, it’s a school issue.

All of those issues intertwine with each other. If we’re not all sitting at the same table with the same goal in mind, which is to make sure that we are raising the future leadership of tomorrow and educating our students so that they can be competitive in a global world, we lose the ability to do that without the collaboration across sections.

One of the things that I’m super proud of the inside of our school district is we hold an all-hazard workgroup meeting where I’ll bring 30 different organizations to a table once a quarter prior to COVID and we’d have representatives. That was born out of some of the active shooter and tragedy events that I responded to where you have an active shooter at a school or shooting at a school or at the Navy yard or someplace else, and all of these government agencies respond.

I don’t want them to see me for the first time during the middle of a tragedy. I want them to walk up to me and say, “Jason, what do you need?” And I want to look at them and say, “Chris, what do you need?” Building those relationships beforehand and then understanding that not only do we need to look at those terminal events, such as an active shooter, but we also need to look at gang violence. We need to look at how we’re sharing data on poverty inside our community because it directly affects our discipline.

We hear a lot about this proportionality. This proportionality is based upon the idea that everything is equal and we know it’s not. We absolutely know poverty affects certain demographics much more than it does others. Mental healthcare affects certain demographics, the lack of mental healthcare, the lack of hospitals, the food deserts, the inability of kids to get good food. They can go to a local store and buy a beer cheaper than buy water. Buy a bag of Fritos, but no apples. Those are all issues that a school plays an integral role in, but for far too long we’d been siloed off from it.

Without the schools and community working together, we do not know what some of the kids go through at home.

The warning signs come from every direction that we can. All our hazard workgroup, while it was born out of terminal events and instructions for a terminal event, we’ve now expanded it to include church groups, the American Red Cross, UNICEF—everything that we can bring to bear to talk about how do we keep our kids safe, because its all intertwined, and it takes everybody coming into the table.

One of the things that Maryland was the second state to start—it started in West Virginia—is a program called Handle With Care. Handle With Care was built on police officers, but we have expanded it to include police, fire, EMS, the Department of Social Services, and our hospitals.

When they have a child that suffers from a traumatic event or a tragedy, or is a witness to it, they send us a quick note that just says, “Hey, this kid, if they know the school, will they let us know the school? If not, we can find it in our database.” Handle them with care. We don’t ask any details about the event or anything else that’s going on, but we know that the kid suffered something shortly before school, the day before school, or something along those lines.

They may not be ready to take that spelling test because the SWAT team busted through their doors at 6:00 AM, they’re probably not in the right frame of mind to take a spelling test. They need to talk to somebody.

That allows us to use those warning signs to build those databases for those families that need extra help that need us to come to the table and be a partner in teaching them how to fish, not just giving them the fish all the time.

Yeah, and I assume that enables your staff to have that—I’m missing the word at the tip of my tongue, but have that extra compassion for a student who has had a traumatic event within the last 24-48 hours, knowing that if they’re somewhat may be more out of sorts in class. Not to escalate, but have those deescalating interactions.

Absolutely. We had our catchphrase a couple of years ago was to “Be kind.” Just the simpleness of being kind to people, which drives you into that conversation of empathy. Teaching kids is easy; teaching adults is hard. Getting to adults that you need to be empathetic, that not every kid has the same experiences that you do. That we have to take into account the social and emotional standpoints of the children before we learn.

You have to build a relationship with them so that they see you not just as the authoritative teacher, that they see you as a partner in learning. One of the really big things that we’re really pushing home to our staff is instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you?” Asking kids, “What happened to you?” That, I think, just helps everybody, not only from a school standpoint, but think about it from a professional standpoint, from a work standpoint. Instead of, as the boss, the supervisor, the aspiring leaders, or the manager asking, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you behave this way?” Asking, “What happened to you?”—that really changes the conversation point, especially when you’re dealing with the littlest of learners. The ramification for losing a child in second grade to education because of problems is compounded not only by the fact that we’re adding more people that are dropouts to the world, but we know that when they drop out, they’re 14 times more likely to go to prison. That they’re not going to be productive members of society.

It’s incumbent on schools to do their portion of that role to support kids in their learning, which again, falls right back into that cascading effect of the safety and security inside of our schools. Because we know, statistically, kids that are doing well in school, that are engaged in school, we know that kids that are athletes, kids that keep themselves busy, are far less likely to be threats inside the school. Idle hands theory. They have a goal, they have light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s where we want to keep them.

We were talking about that generational, OK, we’ve had three or four generations going through 12 years of school. Do you find difficulty communicating with the parents of shifting issues? Because they’re thinking about, “Oh, when I went to high school or K-12, these were the issues.” Now there’s a different set of issues, so there’s a little mismatch on expectations.

Yeah, I think there is, and it’s up to us. We can never over-communicate what’s going on. I think it’s incumbent to all of us in this profession to make sure that we’re having honest conversations with people about all the different threats that we face, about all the different things that are going on, about changing technologies that can make life safer, but at the same time, can make it more accessible to information, and we do.

Generational poverty is an issue that we play a role in ending, not only from the end part, from the means, from educating kids so that they go on to college and make a good living, but also from what we can support. Whether it’s through our Pupil Personnel Worker program where we send out jackets and we help people with food.

During the COVID pandemic, some of the things we’ve been doing—feeding our community. We have served over 1.5 million meals since the beginning of COVID. Whatever we do as a portion of that is just as helpful all the way across the line, and being willing to have those tough conversations.

It’s difficult to have tough conversations family-wise, imagine having conversations from our point of view, but for far too long I think we’ve shied away from it. We didn’t want to offend anybody. We didn’t want to have those tough conversations. Frankly, the statistics are the statistics.

If a kid has a teenage pregnancy, their chances of being a successful adult are reduced. By all means, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, but it’s reduced. If a child is introduced into the criminal justice system early on in their life, the statistics bear out that being a successful adult—graduating high school, moving on to college or trade school, and doing these thing—is greatly reduced.

In many cases, you can hold up the mirror to the parent and say, “See, we told you. We told you we were here to help you and you didn’t take it. Now we’re here talking about your kid.” We have to be willing to have those conversations at times, in a professional way, because we live in two worlds. The rich, the richer, or the more powerful, and the people who have nothing or the people that we need to help. The middle class is shrinking every day.

The only way that we change that is through education and through local governments and big governments. I won’t even address the Federal government, but working collaboratively to come up with solutions, not just rhetoric.

We need to work together to find solutions.

What are some of the collaborative solutions that you’ve tried to use for addressing, let’s say, gang violence in school?

Maryland passed a law years ago that required police to actually tell us about people who were arrested in the community for a certain group of crimes. That doesn’t happen very often across the state because it’s kind of a forgotten law. Policing is death by a thousand cuts. I spent a little over 20 years there and you started in 1998 policing, didn’t look anywhere near that in 2018.

It first started with traffic stop data. You write the ticket, the ticket wasn’t good enough, so now it had to be this piece of paper, now you need to do this because we were looking at documenting all kinds of things.

When we start to talk about issues of collaboration, we have to figure out what best works. One of the things that work for us is this idea that when the police arrest the child, whether it’s in school or out of school, it could affect their safety. They’re required by law to report that to us. We had to build a system that allowed that.

Whether it’s just an email or whatever else, they’re still supposed to report it to us. There are 33 delineating crimes, but not every cop is going to remember that. We just said, “Anytime you lock up one of our kids, let us know and then we’ll figure it out.” That allows us to see.

The meeting that I was talking about—the all hazard meeting—we hosted a gang intervention meeting. I bring in all of our vice principals and our principals, and they sit with the local gang unit. I challenge the local gang unit to come to the table. You got up to 16, 18, 20 people sitting in front of you that can give you information.

Our school leaders know their kids, they know who they hang out with, they know nicknames, they know all of these things. You are sitting in front of them to get information, but it’s a two-way street. You have to give us information.

Part of my career, I spent in intelligence. Intelligence, narcotics, police departments, and things like that are information suckers. They take all of that information in but seldom give you anything back. What I challenged the gang unit with was, “We’ll give you whatever you need, but you got to give it back to us. You’ve got to tell us who the players are. You’ve got to tell us what they’re into. You’ve got to tell us what to look for.” And they were receptive to that because two years ago when we were in school, we had a gang issue. It was in our school, so we were allowed to let the investigator into the building and we brought them the kids.

We’re helping the community, we’re helping our schools. Again, collaborative efforts, collaborative partnership to where those things work when we’re sharing information. It’s far too often schools that are over here, they get these wonderful databases of great information.

You can walk into a school and ask the vice principal, “Who does this kid hang out with?” “Oh, they’re hanging out here, here, here.” “Where do they hang out?” They know everything, and in many cases, they are actually on their social media pages. Again, another outlet for the police to get involved with.

That is a great example of what collaboration can bring. Myself and one of my former partners who was in charge of the gang unit in my former organization, we’ve presented it at the national conference about how we worked together, how we shared. They had kids that were creating videos, releasing them on YouTube that had guns in them. They can only identify half of the kids that were in the video. We showed them at this meeting and by the time we got done, we had named every one of the kids that were in the video.

It was amazing to listen to, “Oh, that’s so-and-so. That’s Johnny, that’s Jimmy. They go to this school, went to this school. Here’s their last name.” The police walked out with a notebook full of information that they didn’t have over a five-minute video.

We have to be willing to do that more often, and we have to get through this idea that schools are so siloed off, the police are only worried about locking kids up, and the idea that what happens in a school is in a school, what happens in a community is in a community. That’s not true. They cross sections across every day.

You were talking about videos on social media. When I was in high school, social media was when you interact with people face-to-face. There was no Twitter, there’s no Facebook, there’s no TikTok. There’s none of that. Has that shifted in the way that you know what’s going on with the students and how to ascertain threats to a particular school?

It does play a role; it’s not the only role. There are a number of companies out there that provide social media monitoring for different schools or for different events. They can set up geofences and do social media. The problem with that is that usually, it’s only public communications. Your Facebook page is probably locked down just like mine is. You can always see a picture or two on mine.

If I’m communicating on my Facebook page and it’s not set to public, or the messages are not set to public, their software can’t see it. A vast majority of people know that, and a vast majority of people don’t like Big Brother watching. What we’ve seen is across the country, with many of these things, where people are posting, they’re posting in their peer groups. They’re posting on small webforms and things like that.

Those social media monitoring are very limited in what they can do. We went a little bit differently. With the help of my former superintendent, we created an intelligence unit in our school system. We’re one of the few that has something like that where we don’t spend a great deal of time monitoring social media, but when we need to, we can.

When we get a tip—like we have anonymous tip lines or whatever else—we can utilize the number of connections that we have in the community and say, “Hey, are you friends? I noticed you’re friends with this person. Can you go on to their page and see what you see?” A lot of times, we do that with the administrators. We have rules that say that people aren’t supposed to be connected with their kids through social media, but sometimes there’s a number of different reasons and Charles Country is 160,000 people. We’re too big to be small, too small to be big.

Everybody knows everybody so I can connect with somebody that is a trusted source at some level somewhere that may or may not be an administrator or teacher to get the information off of the page if I need to. Social media is a great tool, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox.

As I said earlier, building relationships inside the schools is as highly important to keep them safe. Two years ago, we had two guns found at the school in a six-week period. Rightfully so, the community was up in arms—schools are unsafe and lots of things there. The side point that I try to explain to people is to believe that there are no guns in schools on occasion is ridiculous. They’re there.

The point here is in your school, somebody brought it forward. They felt comfortable enough because of the relationships they had built with staff, students, and the SROs that they brought that information forward. We need to have that and emulate that everywhere because kids are going to do kid things. Sadly, kids have impulse control issues.

This coming school year, we are all set for tragedy. It’s going to be a sporty school year and tragic at minimum, and I hope that I’m 100% wrong. But when you look at increasing gun violence around the country, we’ve seen increasing mass shootings. Impulse control, you can see that from road rage issues. You can see that from the way people deal with authority, not only police-wise but government-wise. People showing up to fight over a critical race that’s not being discussed in board meetings but is creating a problem.

To try to get in front of something that’s really not even a portion of national discussion. If you just take what the FAA is saying about the number of airplane incidents and disorderly people on airplanes, to think that that’s not going to come to a school is ludicrous. It’s coming out of our schools. Our kids have been without support for 18-24 months. We’re going to have a sporty year.

This year, we have to be 100% correct in order to keep all of our kids safe. That’s going to include collaboration from our local partners, all of our people being up on things, people sharing information, and us sharing information back out. We’ve already seen it. We’ve seen incidents where we’ve had parents during summer school that just fly off the handle—get this—about a bus being early.

You complain when a bus is late, yes, I get that. Her child, her student, didn’t even miss the school bus. She was just upset that the bus was early and that they got there early because of whatever reason. She screamed at the bus driver, followed the bus driver, scared the bus driver to death, ended up at the school over what? It’s an impulse control issue.

It is obvious there’s something else much larger than a bus being early, but we’re the government. We are going to have those issues so we have to be on our game as we move forward, especially moving into the school year.

You talked about working with other government agencies, trying to work more with the community. What are schools doing to, in a sense, work more with the kids, to build that trust with the kids to—I’ll use whatever the phrase was when I was younger around 9/11—see something, say something. How is the school fostering that type of communication with the students?

That’s always the challenge. Any school system is built at a high-quality safety, and security program is built on layers. It’s not just one thing. It can never be one thing. It can’t just be technology because anytime you have a crisis and you use technology, it breaks. You have to have those backup plans, the paper, the pens, and the pencils, being able to communicate in different ways, and having redundancy plans.

When it comes to building those relationships, there’s been a set of at least four grants between the CARES money and there have been three versions that have come out that have allowed school systems and, in many cases, given the school system and the states more money than they can spend because they pigeon hole it. You can only use it for this, you can only use it for that.

Community support and wrap-around services inside schools are enormous. They are immense. I would say at this point, they will be in every school district in the country. They’ll have more than what they had before. The problem is how do we get kids to those services? And in many cases, those services have existed for eons. Our school system is no different. A vast mass majority of disciplinary issues and arrest or criminal charges that result from schools happen because of assaults, because of fights.

For years, every school system in the world has concentrated on diversion programs, mediation programs, and restorative practices programs to reduce the amount of altercation, but we still have them. How do we get those kids that are reluctant, only know how to fight, and only know how to solve problems with impulse control issues or with physical confrontations to the services, especially in the areas that they grew up in, maybe with the family supports or the lack of family supports that say that stuff doesn’t work. You need to defend your honor.

When we look at nonviolence out here, we’re not very far from DC. Those kids are fighting over honor. They’re shooting and killing each other over a diss or over something else, and that’s been a problem for a long time. It’s not new to 2021, but it has increased. It’s increased greatly.

Fights will happen over the smallest issues.

You can get into that gun control thing, but it takes somebody to pull the trigger on every gun that’s out there. The gun just doesn’t fire on its own. It’s an impulse control issue, and it’s an inability to deal with stress, emotional maturity issues, and things like that. We have to concentrate on how we get all of these wonderful services that we have and put them in the lap of our kids so that our kids are not afraid to go to them, and our parents are willing to use them.

We can’t force kids to come to mediation. But at the same time, we want to keep kids from being arrested, because we know introducing them into the criminal justice system isn’t the right way to go about it in most cases. However, it’s the only way the government has given us a chance to respond that requires that intervention.

In Maryland and I think in most states, the Department of Juvenile Services or the Juvenile Justice branch of government is a referral service. They’re not a punitive service. They’re there to keep kids out of the criminal justice system, but they’re a part of the criminal justice system because they also have punishment on. It’s really confusing to advocates that, “Look, we’ve got to place charges against these kids to introduce them to the system to get them to Federal programs that are mandated because we can hold the stick over their head with the cork.”

That’s probably not the right way to go about it in the 21st century. We want kids to stay away from that for the labeling issues and for everything else. The hopelessness issues that it brings. But the challenge is how do you do it in built-in 21st century bureaucratic structures? The government is not designed to change. Governments are not designed to quickly evolve.

But the demands placed upon us to reduce the number of kids that are being introduced are much faster. They want much faster results. So we have to look for those low-hanging fruits. Those low-hanging things that we can really stop kids from being introduced to criminal justice and find those wins that we can celebrate.

It sounds like, ultimately, it’s trying to move away from the ‘us versus them’ mentality building at an earlier age, and us and we mentality that we’re all in this together. We’re trying to help each other as opposed to, “We want to punish you, we want to put you away.” Or, “You’re an outsider,” so to speak.

Think about it from when you were in school. If a kid was bad, they got suspended. In our day, that was bad. You didn’t want to get suspended. In today’s world, getting suspended isn’t a big deal. But what we know is when we stop kids from having the ability to learn, even if it’s for two days, for three days for physical education, they’re three days behind and they never make it up.

What are they doing? They’re sitting at home probably causing more consternation if not for society, at least for the parents. We know that. It’s different today than it was years ago. We know suspending a kid for wearing their earbuds isn’t appropriate. It’s a violation of a rule, and, more than likely, it’s probably the kid that needs to be in school the most that we’re dealing with all the time.

We and our rules have to evolve.

We have to evolve, and for so many adults, as I said earlier, it’s easy to teach the kids. For the adults, you see them all day long. You need to suspend that kid. You need to get rid of that kid. So what? So they can break into your house while you’re at work? Then it’s our problem that we suspended them.

We have to reimagine. We’ve heard that quite a bit during COVID. We’ve heard reimagine and all those catchphrases, but honestly, I think that’s what our charge is in the 21st century is to reimagine what that looks like. How do we build those structures to reduce discipline, increase performance in our schools, and build productive societal members because that’s ultimately our goals?

I think that’s what we’re really struggling with is this old-school adage of those of us who are in our 40s that have kids that are in school, the school is out of control. They’re really not. It’s a small number of kids. We’ve just got to figure it out. I’d point to anybody—I’m a voracious reader—to Bill Bratton’s new book called The Profession.

He talks about how to reimagine policing and it’s nothing more than neighborhood policing. Those conversations that he has—you can take that and so many other books and translate them into education and criminal justice. Just the amazing things that we’re seeing on one side of things should never be siloed off because it was a corporate solution or because it was a policing solution.

One of my favorite authors, Stanley McChrystal, it’s a special ops solution. Those solutions are across the board for all of us and we need to take them.

Yeah. Let’s shift gears a little bit here and talk about cybersecurity in schools and the cyber issues that you have to deal with. I think of businesses and it’s “easy” to pull your staff into a meeting and say, “Here are the rules. Don’t click on this. When you see this, do this. You’re all professionals. We’re all paying you good money. You need to follow the rules.”

Schools are now facing the same issues if not more issues than businesses are, and you have a bunch of kids with impulse controls to throw in the mix. What are some of the cybersecurity issues that you guys are facing? What are you doing to remedy them?

We face the same cybersecurity issues that everybody faces, but you add in the kid component. My son is an amazing young man who works in the computer industry now. When he was in school—he’s 24, 25, so that tells you how long ago it was—he hacked into all of the routers in the school just to show them that it can be done.

This is at the advent of computers or the growing of computers, but here he is taking down the firewalls and everything else because he was able to, but he did it for a good reason. We do see some nefarious hackers trying to get into our grading system, changing grades. The things that we’ve all done, but we did it with an eraser, we just didn’t get the mail that day and it shredded, or whatever.

The kids are enterprising and they have a lot of time to deal with those things. We don’t necessarily see as many cybersecurity issues from our kids as one would think. We see international groups, insider threat issues, and sabotage issues. That’s always a concern because you can build the best network with all the different things and lock everything down. If you give somebody an email address, they click on something, and it infects, that’s it.

I was just onboarding some new employees this morning and welcoming them to the organization. We talked about—“None of you are lucky enough to have a long-lost relative in Egypt that’s just going to give you $2 million if you send them $750 in Green Dot cards. It’s just not going to happen.” But at the same time, while that sounds absolutely ludicrous, the reason that they’re successful with it is because one person does it.

Think about it. If you send out 20,000 emails a day, one person responds, you funded it with no work, so it works. Quite frankly, I think you could go as far as to say a vast majority of Americans have been scammed on the internet in one form, fashion, or another. It’s embarrassing. None of us want to talk about it because we all sit back and go, “Oh my God, that was dumb.” But it happens to the best of us. It happens to very bright people.

Malware is a huge issue. Ransomware is a huge issue. I think school systems in particular have been far behind on that because who wants our data? Well, it’s important to us. If you can imagine how much education we do virtually now and all those other things, it shuts us down. We saw multiple school districts in the last years—even in the DC area—that had to close because their systems had been overtaken by people.

I really think that school systems across the country are really going to have to invest in hiring cybersecurity specialists, not just relying on network engineering—the traditional people that keep your servers running, and things like that. We’re really going to invest in corporate- and government-style cybersecurity solutions to keep us safe because our data is valuable. It’s not valuable to anybody else but us.

I think business people—people who run a small business—even think, “Oh, why am I ever going to get targeted? My customer list isn’t important to anybody.” Well, it’s important to you if you don’t have access to it.

Yeah. Think about how many times as an adult your credit cards have been stolen. You still have your credit card. It’s still in front of you, but somebody has charged $1 in someplace in Spain to your credit card. It happens all the time. You’ve done nothing wrong.

I just had to go through and get a new credit card a while ago. It wasn’t that I did anything wrong, but I firmly believe I went to a small business, I used my credit card, and that’s how it was done. It’s not that it’s a small business problem because Target had the exact same issue a couple of years ago.

Believe me, on the intel side of my life, everybody’s information is on the internet. You can find anybody’s Social Security Number. Nothing’s a secret anymore. You can bind credit card numbers, passwords, and everything.

I just got something the other day from Credit Karma, I think, that said that my password or my login had been stolen from a parking lot thing. It’s not a big deal that my login or that my password was stolen, but how many times do you use the same password for everything? There are people that are buying these lists on the dark web that are just matching things up.

I used to run a small business. Even in 2014, 2015, I’d get 17-20 charges using the different credit cards trying to send something to Cuba, trying to send something to Venezuela, or whatever. That was seven, eight years ago. It would just be trying and trying and trying. What they were trying was the same card number in many cases, but different CVV codes, and eventually, they’re going to get right. We all think that that doesn’t happen, but it’s lucrative even if it’s successful once.

Yeah. There are economies of scale that unfortunately work to the cyber criminals’ advantage. It’s very inexpensive to launch attacks. It’s very expensive to defend against attacks.

Absolutely.

I’m not sure if I want to ask this question. If you don’t want to answer it, we’ll edit it out. If we don’t edit it out, people will hear this and it will be funny. Is there a cybersecurity equivalent of a kid pulling the fire alarm? When I was in school, when you didn’t want the test, some kid would go run, pull the fire alarm. Oh, so much for the test. It’s going to have to happen tomorrow.

It’s still going to happen, but is there a cybersecurity equivalent of that that you’re seeing in schools that instead of kids pulling the fire alarms, they’re doing something on the cybersecurity side?

At the low end, maybe taking over TVs inside of rooms with their cell phones, using the remotes, and taking over that. But on the top end of that, we are seeing huge increases in swatting. While that’s not necessarily a cybersecurity issue, it does boil down to most of the swatting revolves around gaming.

For the audience, for those who don’t know what swatting is, can you tell us what swatting is?

Swatting is where somebody will call in a 911 phone call for an area or a residence and identify somebody in a fake call to get the police, the fire department, or somebody to respond to that fake call. In many cases, it’s a hostage situation, a homicide situation, a bomb threat, or something along those lines.

What we are seeing—and we’ve had it twice in the last couple of months—are kids who play, say, Call of Duty, these first-person shooter games, or something along those lines. They get into an argument while they’re playing the game. The people have information that you share as a part of the game, as a part of the relationship that you build with these people, and then they use it. You beat me in the game so now I’m going to get back at you. I’m going to call in and I’m going to say, “Brian Wilson has a bomb at Westlake High School.”

When you’re playing these games today, they play them on a Zoom platform like this where you can see the background. Some of these kids have their school names and they know their real names. It doesn’t take much to find Westlake High School. They know you’re in Maryland—to type that in, to figure it out, and to call the school. Whether it’s a homicide scene, most of ours have been bomb threat situations where this kid’s got a bomb in his backpack, you better get out of the school.

Traditional fire alarms and bomb threats were usually done on the first 70-degree day when there’s a test the next day, there’s a carnival right outside of school, and the kids don’t want to be in school. We’ve learned from that. Our school system responds, but we do not evacuate schools for that. By doing that, we cut all that out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing happen with swatting. It’s becoming an increasing issue. It’s always one of the first questions that I ask when we have one of these threats. “Where did these numbers come from? What did they say?” When we talk to the suspect that may have been identified—“Tell me about the video games you play. Who have you had problems within video games?”

It is harder to get kids off of video games or the TV.

We are finding that to be the much broader issue versus a kid turning off or on television. Like I said earlier, we’ve had issues with kids trying to break into our school records management systems, but those things are pretty easy to spot once they get done because those are running tablets’ tallies. You just can’t change the last grade with a D.

I teach at a couple of colleges and those are running tablets. Unless you change every one of those grades, you just can’t change the last one to show up as a D. You’ve got to change them all.

The teachers are pretty well aware of, “Johnny was failing; why does he have an A on his report card?” I think Johnny needs to focus his energies on computer science.

But then again, we also fight the problem—as we talked about cybersecurity teachers who write down on a Post-it note their password and stick it to their computer in their classroom.

Teachers are amazing creatures. They are amazing human beings. They do this job for amazing things and it isn’t because of the love of money, but they don’t necessarily see, “Oh that’s my password; let me write that down,” because they don’t view the world that way. They don’t view the world like you and I, the police officers, or the people who do this look at all the threats that are out there and make the determinations. Teachers just don’t do that. Their kids would never do that. That’s why they’re teachers.

We originally thought we would talk a little bit about COVID. Let’s just spend two minutes on COVID in terms of some of the challenges that you have in bringing kids back, community, and those sorts of things.

It’s a never-ending challenge. Education is built on pretty bright lines and solid foundations of this is what’s possible. This is what we can do legally. These are the things that we can do. COVID has shown us that that is just unsustainable and it’s an untenable position, so we have to be nimble.

The best advice that I can give anybody is to include parents, communities as a whole, school administration, and everything else. Remain number one and remain open. As we sit here today on the 26th of July, on the 1st of July, we implemented a mask optional policy inside of our schools. You can wear masks. We strongly encourage you to wear masks, but it was optional for everybody—from the unvaccinated to the vaccinated.

On July 1st, we were in the right spot. We were at a 0.56%—locally—positivity rate. Our cases per 100,000 were below one. We were in the right spot. However, 25 days later, we are at 3.27% and six cases per 100,000. We’ve seen six-fold increases in 25 days, so we have to change and we will change.

Far too often, my phone has been ringing off the hook while we’ve been sitting here. My emails are blowing up. I’ve got reporters and everything else who now want to know what we’re doing for COVID. Quite frankly, we’re 30 days away from reopening school here. We don’t know where we’re going to be tomorrow let alone where we’re going to be 30 days from now, but people want answers. But we’re talking about their babies and they’re scared. They want to know what we’re doing and they want to know that we are being protective.

One of the things that I struggle with the most is as far as our units, we’ve built a tremendous amount of legitimacy and credibility because we’ve done what we said we were going to do, but there are still people that are questioning it because it’s the government. To continue to tell people, “Look, we will take care of your kids.” There is no good business sense for allowing kids to just come to school unsafe. It just doesn’t make sense. It is difficult for the parents to understand that. It’s difficult for teachers to understand that.

The best advice that I can say to anybody is to stay flexible, stay nimble, and pay attention to what’s going on locally. What happens in Arkansas does not affect you unless you live in Arkansas. Stay local with what’s going on and understand that with COVID, you can find anybody to agree with your statements. If you’re using The Daily Wire and Mother Jones to justify your belief in COVID, there’s something wrong.

The CDC writes policies for the nation, not for your states, not for your locality. So of course, when the CDC says something, they say it for the nation because we see right now, the nation’s very divided in where we sit. Coming back from Bexar County, Texas, was 13.75% positivity. They’ve got a lot more COVID community-wise than what we do in Charles County, but we’re trying to be proactive.

Stay connected with what’s going on locally, stay connected with what’s going on from the CDC, stay connected with what’s going on from your local health departments, from your regional health departments, and from your local guiding bodies because that’s where the importance comes from.

People get wrapped up in the misinformation and the politics of things, and much of my day is involving that and fighting that. But at the end of the day, it makes no good business sense to send kids back to school when they’re not safe. These are our national treasures, so we need to do everything that we can to protect them. But we need to do everything we can to protect them within reason that is justified by science and even science that we don’t agree with. You can’t just scream that you’re about science when you like it.

Yeah. That is a challenge. Regardless of what side people are on, it’s unfortunate that it has been a very polarizing discussion. It makes it very hard to implement policy and to have this consensus of, “Hey, this is how we’re going to march forward” without a large portion of a community being upset one way or the other.

This is not an original thought by me, but one of the striking points that were brought to my attention that I think every adult should think about is if today was the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s when we were fighting mumps, measles, polio, smallpox, and everything else, and we created these wonderful vaccines that basically eradicated those disease and those viruses. If we took that and transported it into 2021, we never would have eradicated any of them. Think about that.

Much of that is because parents—adults don’t know what it’s like to look at somebody who’s been inflicted with polio. They don’t know what it looks like to lose somebody to smallpox, to measles, or to mumps because it’s never been around. In our lifetime, we’ve never seen that.

Now, you complicate this with COVID, you see this idea that 52% of the country will not be vaccinated with a very safe vaccine, and all of the misinformation that goes with it. And then you wonder, “Huh, would we have eradicated polio if it was today?” The answer, I think, is no and science proves it. Data proves it. That scares me and it should scare all of us at the fact that there are 168 million Americans that have been fully vaccinated. They’re safe. The statistics that are out there of people dying from the vaccine are made up. They’re not real. They are safe.

Locally, we’re 38% for 12%-17%. That’s untenable to open schools and to maintain schools being open without masks. You don’t want to wear masks because you think it infringes upon your rights? Get your kid vaccinated because that’s the way we’re going to get through this. It scares me to death. It’s just like everything else. What is old is new again.

I seem to remember this and I don’t know if it’s an urban legend, so don’t hold me to the science of this. In the same way we were talking earlier about the cybersecurity equivalent of pulling the fire alarm, I’ve heard that there are some equivalents of pulling the COVID alarm in terms of kids finding ways to test positive when they’re not positive in order to have quarantines to keep them out of tests. Is that something that you guys are looking at and having to deal with?

Not as of right now because we’ve had virtual hybrid instructions. The way that we set things up is if you were in face-to-face, you’re in face-to-face. If you’re in virtual, you’re in virtual. You couldn’t go back and forth.

However, the kids were enterprising. What they did figure out was the idea that “I’m sick today. You don’t want me to come to school sick.”—which is one of our rules: you don’t come to school sick—“so I’m going to stay home.” That’s the same day that the test goes.

Not as much about being quarantined as much about enterprising children figuring out a way to game the system. All their face-to-face friends are all sitting in the classroom doing this. They’re all sitting in the classroom doing this with two monitors up—one for the teacher to watch them and the other monitor for them to google the answer. That will go away this year because as it sits today, we don’t have a virtual option so kids can’t opt in or opt out. I don’t think we saw anybody who feigned being sick.

The way that our school district did things was also a little bit different as far as contact tracing. Our unit did all of our own contact tracings. We contact traced 277 adult staff members over the period of COVID when we started in October all the way through. Then, we contact-traced 66 kids when we went back to school in March.

We did all of those interviews with the parents. While we didn’t demand people to send us proof of positive tests, I never found anybody that was lying about being with COVID. I just never found anybody who’d go through that stress. It was too easy to do other things.

That’s a good point. It’s easy for kids to do other ways to disrupt the flow. Before we wrap up today, any other advice for school safety, school security, that should be on the top of people’s minds?

Build layers. Layers upon layers upon layers. When you start to look at layers, it’s not just about physical security. It’s not just about having cool technological things. It’s also about pens and paper, it’s also about relationships, and it’s also about mental health.

School security is based upon school climate. The safest way that you can make schools is through school climates. A positive school climate is the safest way that you can make sure that we are as safe as possible. Those require relationships. That requires investment. It requires collaboration.

Build on layers. There’s no silver bullet. If there was, we all would have it by now. It is all truly about building upon layers.

Awesome. Jason, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. We really appreciate your expertise.

Thank you. I appreciate it. It’s been an honor.

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