Education & Family

In a Year Filled With So Much Angst, a Ransomware Attack Feels About Right

Our family's reaction to the Baltimore County Public Schools cyber attack: Could 2020 stop being so 2020?

It’s hard to be surprised by anything in a year centered around a pandemic, but last Wednesday morning as parents were just starting to wake up their kids for school in Baltimore County—the last day before a four-day holiday weekend—the texts started coming in. “Heads up. BCPS schools may be closed today. Virus hit the system. Waiting on official word.” And “DO NOT turn on devices.”

Six days later school has, so far—for all 115,000 students—been canceled indefinitely (okay, it’s just three days), along with parents’ last shred of hope for a dignified end to 2020.

According to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, at least 44 school districts have reported ransomware attacks so far this year. (In all of 2018 there were only 11 reports.) I’m sure there is enough blame to go around, but mostly, let’s fault the hacker(s) who are disrupting a lot of kids who are already having a pretty crap year. Not cool.

In a year filled with so much angst, cancelation, pivoting, new normal (and all the other overused phrases), a ransomware attack feels about right. (Insert “I did not have this on my 2020 BINGO card” joke here.) Three months into a virtual school year, we were kind of hitting our stride. We were turning in assignments and mastering small groups. We were conquering Schoology and Google Meets, as well as A days and B days. We were feeling hopeful that there might be a hybrid schedule in our future. This is like pulling the power cord when we were just about to write the final paragraph of a story.

But what does it mean? In our house—where I have two fourth graders, a sixth grader, and an eighth grader—it meant a lot of extra screen time these past two days. As a working mom (like so many out there), the thought of having to be a teacher or a motivator just wasn’t realistic. Instead, at 2 p.m. on Monday, I announced to the youngest three that we were going on a field trip to the aquarium. (It was not lost on me that this was happening on Cyber Monday.) Two out of three kids were in flip flops, and one forgot to put on a shirt under his sweatshirt. But we were out.

It wasn’t an invigorating science class, but it was something. My son, Zeke, asked a million question of the aquarium worker at the Blacktip Reef and found out one of the zebra sharks is named Zeke, too. Willa was in complete zen watching the dolphins swim around their big tank. “I could have stayed there all day, mom,” she said when I told her it was time to go. And Gideon asked if we could go to the gift shop. “No.”

“This is 2020’s snow day” a lot of people commented. (Every snow day needs a treat was what I told myself when our aquarium adventure ended at Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop.) But I just don’t have it in me to be upset anymore. There are enough people ranting and raving at every Baltimore County Public School Facebook post. I’m choosing to be dolphin zen.

As of this writing, school is scheduled to resume on Wednesday, December 2. My kids and I were lucky enough to splash puddles, gawk at jellyfish, and eat sprinkle cookies on one of their days off (you know, after I yelled that they had spent the morning, “killing all their brain cells.”) With only 31 days left in the year, what else could possibly go wrong?