Massachusetts DESE finds Tewksbury data breach violated state law
In April, this site noted what I described as a “horrific” breach involving the Tewksbury public schools. A document included in a 222-page School Committee packet that had been publicly available online not only exposed personal and private details for the out of district placements of 83 special education students, but it rated their parents according to their “cooperativeness” with the district. Although the students’ names had been replaced with numbers, it was possible to identify at least some of the children.
A member of the school committee whose child’s data was exposed in the breach and who, herself, had been rated as “uncooperative” by the district as a parent, resigned from the committee the following month, citing the incident as part of her reason.
Now the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has completed its investigation of the incident. Chelsea Feinstein reports:
In a letter dated June 18 and presented to the School Committee last week, representatives of DESE wrote that the district must provide training to all district staff before the beginning of the upcoming school year. School Committee participation is optional.
In addition, the district is required to submit a copy of the training agenda and signed attendance sheets to the DESE, along with a copy of the district’s policies and procedures.
“The department’s review of the case documentation, including a review of the information that was posted on the district’s website in March 2015, shows information that could have enabled a person who does not have personal knowledge about the students to make a reasoned identification of a particular student,” the letter says. “The combination of all types of information made public which students were placed out of district because of their special education status.”
Read more on The Lowell Sun.
This may not seem like a huge deal to those more familiar with mega-breaches involving millions of people’s health records or financial records, but it’s actually quite unusual for a state to come down on a public school district like this and to require corrective training. Kudos to Ellen Chambers and SPEDWatch for filing the complaint with the state.