April 8, 2020
Dear Berkeley Unified Families,
Last night, I wrote that I felt I had to pause the district’s use of Zoom for student-teacher interactions after we suffered a serious security breach. I’m writing today to offer a more complete description of what happened and what we plan to do about it.
First, I am planning only a temporary suspension of the use of video conferencing. I understand from the emails I’ve received from many of you that the real time online interaction between students and teachers has been a valuable relief from the sense of isolation during this Shelter-in-Place order.
The temporary suspension of video conferencing, which I hope will last only a few days, will allow us to evaluate the issues we’ve experienced in our first two days of Zoom use. We also plan to continue our review of other video conferencing options, and to reflect further on the support our educators need to reliably enact an adequate set of security precautions.
The reason for this urgent and temporary suspension of video conferencing was not just the misbehavior of a few students. Yesterday there was a serious violation of an online high school classroom meeting conducted in Zoom, when an adult man appeared, exposed himself to students, and shouted obscenities. The man was immediately ejected from the session by the teacher. In response, we have informed the Berkeley Police of this incident and reached out to students who were in the classroom and their parents.
What is especially troubling about this incident is that it appears that the teacher followed all the current guidance about security precautions in Zoom. Still, the intruder obtained the credentials for the meeting and was able to gain access to the session. It is simply unacceptable to ignore a risk of this significance.
Zoom is now making many alterations to its platform to account for the security concerns of a public school setting that just haven’t been present in its previous business applications. Google Meet is also being updated for better use in a K-12 setting. We’re tracking these updates, and we are working to train teachers and students to take advantage of them. In more detail, here is what we have done:
- We have integrated Zoom into our district Clever account, so that students can access Zoom through a known, student-friendly portal that already has BUSD identify verification.
- We have configured a new Zoom “corporate” account that will replace all individual teachers’ Zoom accounts. The new corporate account allows us to lock in a variety of layered security features for every Zoom session in the entire district. These features include precautions including Zoom’s “waiting room”, the automatic disabling of video and audio at the start of the session, permitting only participants with a BUSD email address to enter the session, and active participant confirmation by the host teacher. We are also looking at reducing the number of students who can be in a session at once, as some groups may be too large to effectively manage.
The pause in the use of Zoom and further evaluation of video-conference platforms will also allow us to evaluate the level of training and verification that we’ll have to insist on before any educator invites students to interact live online. Even with the built-in security features, we have 800 teachers who must understand the platform and have a baseline knowledge about how to handle a security issue in real time. Also, each of our 10,000 students and their families must use a BUSD email address, itself a significant communication and support challenge.
I’m hoping that it’s only a few days until we can resume, and I still feel committed to making this work.
Brent Stephens, Ed.D.