After Passing House, Peters, Scott, and Langevin Bipartisan Bill to Help Protect K-12 School Systems from Cyber-Attacks Heads to President to Be Signed into Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rick Scott (R-FL) applauded House passage of their bipartisan legislation to enhance cybersecurity assistance to K-12 educational institutions across the country. Schools are responsible for securing a considerable amount of sensitive records related to their students and employees, including student grades, family records, medical histories, and employment information. The bill will help educational institutions bolster their cybersecurity protections by instructing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to examine the risks and challenges that schools face in securing their systems. Using their findings, CISA is charged with creating cybersecurity recommendations and other voluntary resources for schools to use when implementing their cybersecurity solutions. The bill passed the Senate in August and now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. U.S. Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI-02) is the lead sponsor of the House companion bill.

“Ransomware and other cyber-attacks that can shut down our K-12 schools and compromise the personal information of our students and dedicated educators are unacceptable and must be stopped. We must provide faculty and staff with the resources and means that they often lack to defend themselves and their students against complicated cyber-attacks,” said Senator Peters. “I’m pleased this bipartisan legislation has passed the House and I urge the President to sign it into law as soon as possible so we can better protect K-12 schools and prevent criminals from stealing the personal information of teachers, students, and other staff in schools across the nation.”

“We must do everything possible to protect the safety of every American student — and as we move to an increasingly digital world, this includes the safety of their personal information online,” said Senator Scott. “The K-12 Cybersecurity Act will ensure our schools have the resources they need to bolster cybersecurity and protect our K-12 students, educators, employees, and their families. I am proud of my colleagues in the Senate and House for coming together to pass this valuable legislation and look forward to it becoming law.”

“Throughout the pandemic, criminal hackers have ramped up their attacks on our nation’s schools, disrupting entire school districts and jeopardizing the personal information of students and educators alike. This legislation will help shore up our schools’ cyber defenses and protect our students and educators against those who wish them harm,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. “I thank Senators Peters and Scott for their leadership passing this bill in the Senate, and I look forward to President Biden signing this critical legislation into law.”

Cyber-attacks on schools increased over the past year as Americans’ daily lives and classrooms moved online during the pandemic, including attacks against schools in Michigan. In one attack on Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, hackers successfully accessed records and posted information online. In 2018, Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools in Michigan were targeted by a malicious ransomware attack that temporarily shut down the district’s systems. In Florida, hackers successfully stole thousands of files from Broward County’s School District systems earlier this year. 

The K-12 Cybersecurity Act directs DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to work with teachers, school administrators, other federal departments and private sector organizations to complete a study of cybersecurity risks specific to K-12 educational institutions, including risks related to securing sensitive student and employee records and challenges related to remote-learning. Following the completion of that study, the bill directs CISA to develop cybersecurity recommendations and an online toolkit to help schools improve their cybersecurity hygiene. These voluntary tools would be made available on the DHS website along with other DHS school safety information.

The K-12 Cybersecurity Act has been endorsed by the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning, Michigan Association of School Boards, Consortium for School Networking, School Superintendents Association, National Association of Secondary School Principals and the American Federation of Teachers.

Below are statements of support for the legislation:

“As cyber-attacks on schools continue to increase during the pandemic and beyond, we applaud Senator Peters and Scott for their efforts and are thrilled to see bipartisan legislation pass through Congress that would make recommendations and provide voluntary tools to districts on how to improve their cybersecurity hygiene and allow them to better safeguard the personal information of students and facility in K-12 schools around the nation,” said Sasha Pudelski, Director of Advocacy, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

“Improved federal, state and local government collaboration is needed to stop the recent flood of cyber-attacks on schools,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). “CoSN appreciates Senators Peters’ and Senator Scott’s work to secure passage of the K-12 Cybersecurity Act. This legislation recognizes that the United States desperately needs a swift and comprehensive assessment of the network security challenges school districts face, coupled with a commitment to provide the additional tools and technical assistance required to better protect students’ and educators’ confidential data.”

“The Michigan Association of School Boards applauds Senator Gary Peters for leading this bipartisan effort that will address cyber security for our school districts,” said Don Wotruba, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of School Boards. “We look forward to additional resources from the federal government and guidance from the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency that will help us combat this serious issue, which puts the personal information of our students and faculty at risk.”

“MACUL welcomes the passage of the K-12 Cybersecurity Act and commends Senator Peters’ for his bipartisan leadership to address this time-sensitive need,” said Mark Smith, Executive Director of the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL). “This bipartisan effort will help leaders at all levels of government better understand how to best protect school’s computer networks and sensitive data from external threats. The Act takes an important step closer to ensuring that schools have the assistance they need to better protect students’ and educators’ confidential information.”

“K-12 school systems across Michigan are responsible for collecting and storing the personal information of thousands of students and faculty. Constant attempts to steal this information by hackers who are supported by powerful resources are one of our primary concerns,” said Kevin D. Miller, Ph.D, Superintendent, St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency. “I’m grateful to Senator Peters for leading this effort that will give organizations like ours resources we currently lack to fend off these attacks and defend our networks.”