Staying CIPA-Compliant in Technology-Driven Classrooms

By: Genevieve Michaels | 4/27/2021 | 4 min read

In 2021, technology is more important to education than ever. But adopting tech into the classroom has come with significant challenges. One of the most important is around student internet safety — namely, proving that schools take safe internet use seriously by complying with CIPA, or the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

CIPA compliance isn’t just about keeping students safe — it’s about being able to teach them at all. Compliance is essential for schools to remain operational and keep using devices for online instruction.  

In this article, we’ll explain what CIPA is and why compliance is so complex and challenging. Then, we’ll go over how schools can anticipate security breachesfind and protect sensitive data, retain control of all their devices, and stay compliant with the Children's Internet Protection Act.  

What is CIPA and the E-Rate Program? 

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is intended to protect children from exposure to explicit and harmful content - such as pornography - online. Signed into legislation by Bill Clinton in the year 2000, CIPA requires schools to have an internet safety policy in place that prevents minors from accessing this type of content, and be able to prove that it’s working as intended.  

If schools can’t prove CIPA compliance, they can’t take advantage of E-Rate Program discounts on internet services. This program provides serious discounts — up to 90% — on internet and telecommunications services for schools and libraries. With most public educational institutions running on seriously tight budgets, foregoing low-cost internet isn’t really an option.  

Because internet connectivity is crucial for modern-day education, it’s extremely important for schools to make sure they’re in full compliance with CIPA at all times.  

To fully comply with CIPA, school policies must:  

  • Monitor minors’ online activities 
  • Educate minors about staying safe online, including education about cyberbullying and safe behavior in chat rooms and on social media  
  • Prevent minors from disclosing personal or identifying information online  
  • Prevent minors from engaging in illegal online activity such as “hacking”
  • Prevent minors from accessing harmful, obscene and explicit material such as pornography  
What is regulatory compliance, and how does it impact you?

Achieving and maintaining CIPA compliance 

Keeping children safe is an important goal, but controlling and monitoring activity on this scale is no easy task. Maintaining these policies requires web filters and security tools, which must be in place on all school devices used by minors to access the internet.  

Further complicating CIPA compliance is the ongoing shift towards remote learning, which has made technology an even more important part of instruction. Many schools have been left juggling multiple device types and operating systems, that now, under physical distancing, IT and Security teams must learn to manage remotely.  

Even keeping track of their remote learning devices can prove challenging for schools, let alone staying on top of the security programs installed on them. Tracking, locating, and managing student use of all these devices can be especially difficult for administrative teams with lockdowns and physical distancing measures in place. Schools are left with no way to recover missing devices or verify that students are using them safely — or using them for online learning at all.  

This lack of oversight creates dangerous situations. Without proper management, operating systems stop being updated, students may enter personal or sensitive data onto devices, and security controls like encryption and anti-malware systems can lapse or expire. Not only do these failures cause schools to fall out of CIPA compliance, they put students themselves at risk.

The self-healing capabilities of Absolute’s Persistence® technology helps school districts ensure that critical security features such as web filtering or cyber-attack protection remain in place and stay functional – making it easier to prove CIPA and E-Rate compliance.  

An ongoing battle  

Schools’ IT teams, teachers, and administrators have the best of intentions. But the reality is that staying on top of children’s internet privacy laws is extremely challenging, especially as schools keep upgrading to more advanced devices and needing more of them than ever before. With everyone in public education overworked and spread thin, it takes planning ahead, and leveraging technical solutions like Absolute®, to prevent breaches in CIPA compliance before they happen.  

It’s inevitable that harmful websites will slip through your school’s web filters. Students, who are more proficient with technology than any generation before them, may also use unauthorized VPNs to access content that could violate your policies.  

Another layer of protection 

Absolute® helps you identify CIPA-violating breaches so you can prevent the potentially devastating loss of E-Rate discounts and Internet access. You’ll be able to see potentially harmful websites that may have evaded your existing systems so you can keep improving your strategy on an ongoing basis.  

Regularly provided usage reports will show you where students are spending time online and help you identify potentially risky behavior, such as which devices attempted to access restricted domains. Once you’re armed with the knowledge to address problematic student behavior, you can take action to prevent it from recurring by updating your web filters.  

The most important tool Absolute® provides in the battle for CIPA compliance is visibility. From an intuitive, cloud-based console, you’ll be able to manage your device population remotely across Chromebook, Windows, and Mac, whether or not devices are being used on school premises.

This big-picture visibility allows for true control and oversight — giving you the information you need to prevent device loss and theft, stay aware of CIPA-violating activity, and protect your security applications from tampering — both internally from students, and externally, from malicious cyber attackers.   

Planning, persistence, and protection 

Constantly staying ahead of potentially CIPA-violating activity can feel like an evasive — or even impossible — goal. But with strategy, planning, and the proper tools, CIPA compliance is within reach, and it doesn’t need to overwhelm your already busy staff.  

A proper approach to maintaining CIPA compliance is multi-pronged, using web security and filtering tools, as well as powerful tools for monitoring and oversight like Absolute®. Implementing your policies in this way will allow you to both control web behavior, and respond quickly to inevitable setbacks. That means you stay in compliance with CIPA, have access to the resources and devices that make modern-day education possible, and create a safe and healthy online learning environment for teachers, students, and staff.

Discover how Absolute® is helping K-12 schools adapt to remote and hybrid learning models.


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