W.Va. schools to get free computer upgrades

CHARLESTON (AP) – West Virginia’s public schools will get free computer operating system upgrades for five years under a new agreement with Microsoft.

Schools will enter the agreement with Microsoft on July 1. It will allow schools to upgrade their computers’ operating systems without cost if the hardware can handle the upgrade.

The agreement also will give schools access to email and programs through Office 365, a subscription-based service. The West Virginia Department of Education will pay a flat rate instead of buying the Microsoft Office suite for every computer.

Many school computers still use the 12-year-old Windows XP system. Microsoft ended support for Windows XP last week but said it will continue to provide anti-malware related updates through July 14, 2015.

“We’ve tried to phase it out, but it is difficult considering the size of the county,” Leah Sparks, Kanawha County Schools’ director of technology, said. “But, there are safeguards in place.”

The state provides anti-virus software and firewall protection for school computers, which provide a significant level of protection. But there always is a risk of being exposed to a virus, even on newer operating systems, said Sterling Beane, the West Virginia Department of Education’s chief technology officer.

Beane said that he hopes the Department of Education’s security safeguards and Microsoft’s security updates will provide sufficient protection until schools complete upgrading to newer operating systems.

Kanawha County has extra filters and policies beyond what the state provides and suggests. The county also offers cyber security and safety training.

“We work very hard to be proactive instead of reactive,” Sparks said.

Putnam County schools also take precautions, said Mary Beckelhimer, the school system’s technology director.

“It’s something we deal with on a regular basis,” Beckelhimer said.

All public schools in the state use an application called Deep Freeze, which restores a computer’s hard drive to its original configuration each time it is restarted. A teacher or student would only need to reboot a computer to save it if something happened.