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DoD Schools Exterminating Y2K Bugs in Records

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 1999 – Getting Department of Defense school systems Y2K- compliant may not be as easy as 1-2-3, but school officials are confident all systems will be ready when midnight Dec. 31 arrives.

"We don't see any area where we're deficient, and where we're not going to meet the unmovable deadline of Jan. 1," said Eric Chancellor, DoD Education Activity Y2K action officer. "We feel pretty good about that. We have the inventory and assessment done, and those areas that still need work, we're continuing to work on."

The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K," refers to the past computer industry practice of writing years with just two digits -- 1999 would be "99." Because of this digital shorthand, some computer systems on Jan. 1, 2000, might treat "00" as "1900" or just shut down all together. Almost any computer system may be vulnerable and needs to be checked and then, if necessary, fixed to handle the year change or replaced. A computer system that recognizes the year 2000 date and processes data correctly is called "compliant."

The education activity, governing body for DoD overseas and domestic schools, completed an initial assessment last year of systems susceptible to the Y2K bug. "This included some of our business systems, school information systems, funds control and personnel systems," Chancellor said. "Most were already Y2K- compliant. Those that weren't, we've already started to fix."

The assessment revealed about 25,000 computer systems, half of DoDEA's inventory, may be affected. The other half are obsolete or not affected by Y2K, he said. DoD standard systems control personnel and pay and are already Y2K-compliant.

All DoD schools are opening this fall with a new Y2K-compliant school information management system, a new e-mail system and new library system to track book loans, Chancellor said. The new school information system, "WinSchool," handles enrollment, attendance, grades, bus schedules and ordering supplies. Schools also maintain paper records of attendance and other student files.

In the past year, DoDEA placed more emphasis on safety and security systems such as fire alarms, bell systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. "We've worked with the installation commanders and our facilities engineers to assess those systems. What we've found so far is that there's been almost no problem at all," he said. The few control units found to have Y2K risks will be replaced before the Year 2000, he added.

Another area of emphasis is computer-based curricula. Students use more than textbooks, notebook paper and No. 2 pencils in their studies now. Computers are fully integrated into many classrooms, and some classes, such as computer science, are entirely computer-driven. "Most of the curricular software is Y2K-compliant or being upgraded," Chancellor said.

"We're extremely reliant on technology now, especially in the business areas," he continued. "There's not a process I can think of that we're not depending on data flow and automation. If for some reason (those systems) don't work because of Y2K, you've got to go back to a lot of people and do some 'green ledger' type of work."

"Green ledger" work is a DoDEA backup plan if systems go down Jan. 1. That's just common sense, Chancellor said. Fortunately, a lot of school systems, such as student attendance, still start as paper records, he noted.

"They would continue to take attendance on the sheets even if there was a breakdown in the system," he said. Schools also maintain a folder on each child with enrollment forms and other important school records inside.

Still, Chancellor advised, parents should keep paper copies of school records, including grades, standardized test scores, health information and educational plans, especially if moving during the December-January time frame.

"We're definitely on top of this," he said. "Our top priority is to be as ready as possible with our systems and if for some reason they don't work, we are ready to react appropriately with the contingency plans."

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