Friday, November 14, 2014

Seattle Schools Student Data Privacy Breach

 Update: The Times is saying that the guardian did not just bring it to the law firm's attention weeks ago that he received unasked for student data but that he told the district.  And yet got even more student data after that notification. 

If true, this would support the guardian's thought (and mine) that the district and the law firm were trying to bury him with masses of data.  That would mean that somewhere in the district someone did not bother to redact anything, possibly not thinking of the consequences of sending out a huge volume of data. 

Because if some of the records had been redacted, that would have been an accident.  To me, that none were, then it seems a deliberate action, possibly done in a lazy fashion.

The Times also reports that "the district asked (the guardian) to return or destroy the records so that they can be replaced by a set that doesn't reveal confidential student information."  I'll have to ask if that means he would get 8,000 more records but redacted. 

They also report the district has used this law firm for 10 years.  The district has only pulled this one case from the firm and is assessing other work assigned to the firm. 

End of update

It's worse than we may have thought. I really thought this was a fairly contained incident to just one high school.  It appears to be a colossal failure on the part of the district and the law firm involved, Preg O'Donnell & Gillett.  (The firm was named by the guardian of the student in question in an e-mail to the Seattle School Board.)

(I Googled the firm and frankly, they sound like a very solid citizen firm.  However, in this particular case, something went very, very wrong.)

Let's start with the particulars, gathered from multiple sources.

There is a 17-year old student at an SPS high school with Special Education needs.  This student's guardian, her older brother, was trying to obtain documents related to her services.  He was acting as his sister's lawyer.  I believe the district had obtained the services of POG to handle the issue.  (I am unclear when or why the law firm came into it.)

He made a discovery request "pursuant to a due process hearing" regarding his sister's IEP and Sped services.  (I don't know if the brother was trying to force the district to explain his sister's services under Sped, just for understanding or in pursuit of a lawsuit.)

He was sent "numerous e-mails with embedded attachments" allegedly from the law firm that were irrelevant to his sister's case.

The documents contained information about 8,000 SPS students, both Sped and General Ed.  

Information included:
 - discipline records including infractions, disciplinary measures taken and race of students
- disability
- schools
- names
- addresses
- pick-up locations for Transportation
- complete IEPs for at least 38 high school students
- one high school's roster for EOC exams, AP scores and other scores
- student ID numbers
- student schedules and class room numbers

The guardian told the Board in an e-mail dated November 11, 2014 that this is NOT the first time that he has received FERPA protected information.

He told the Board that the information he was sent had no bearing on his sister's case nor did he request it.

He alleges that he had a conversation with one of the PO&G attorneys about this issue when he got the first batch of e-mails (apparently there were several).  Apparently, wires got crossed or he was ignored or the law firm was told something by someone but he received even MORE student data in the next batch.

Apparently, the district does not know why or how this volume of personalized data was sent to PO&G.  They are investigating.

KING 5 had a report this evening and the guardian showed the reporter item after item on a computer.  The guardian told KING 5 that he had contacted the district about this issue the first time it happened.  (Not clear who he contacted.)  He said "The district has not responded at all really."

KING 5 says the district is blaming the law firm.  The district says they are "sorry" and working with families.  They say the guardian is the only person who has the records and they want a judge to order him to destroy them.

It is unclear what the guardian will do with the data. 

My take? Until the district shows some real proof of what they are doing with this incident, the guardian should hang on to the data to prove what has happened. 


- are all parents/guardians being notified of this problem and how?

- it is laughable to say only the guardian has the data because the law firm had it (and the district says it is working to ensure that all improperly released records are retrieved or destroyed.)

- in the end, how do you ever know data has been destroyed especially by those who appeared careless with it?

- how does our district make SURE that data is transmitted properly and that every single entity who gets student data handles it properly?  Do they check or just ask or assume?

SPS statements:

First statement

Late Tuesday night Seattle Public Schools learned that a law firm retained by the district to handle a complaint against the district inadvertently sent personally identifiable student information to an individual involved in the case.
The district promptly removed the law firm from the case and is working to ensure that all improperly released records are retrieved or destroyed.

Protection of student privacy is of critical importance, and this inadvertent release of student information is unacceptable. Confidential information about several thousand of our students was improperly released. They are primarily Special Education students. Seattle Public Schools is reporting the release of student information to the U.S. Department of Education and is asking for their assistance in investigating how this happened.

Seattle Public Schools is looking into the exact extent of the disclosure and will be sending follow-up communications to affected families.

We appreciate the action of the individual who received these documents in reporting this to the district so that we could quickly move to retrieve the student information and notify families.

Dr. Larry Nyland
Interim Superintendent

Second statement

Thank you for your email regarding the unauthorized release of student information by an outside law firm contracted by the district. We fully appreciate and acknowledge the concern this has created for you and your family.

We realize our initial communications with families may not contain sufficient information to help alleviate your concerns and that is because we are currently in the process of confirming which students and families are impacted, what type of information was shared, and working to retrieve and destroy these information files. However, we did feel it was important to inform parents of the situation as soon as possible and for them to hear directly from us regarding this important matter.

We do want to confirm a few important facts for you:

1.      The student information that was shared by the law firm was given to a family member who is representing the student. At this time, we believe no other individuals have access to this information. 
 We immediately requested that files be returned or destroyed.

2.      A large majority of the student information released involves special education student files.

3.      We have removed the responsible law firm from this case and have been in contact with the appropriate state and federal agencies to confirm the appropriate course of action.

Families should know that the district takes this incident very seriously and are working quickly to confirm more details in order to communicate directly with our parents and families. Families of impacted students will receive a subsequent communication, and all families will get an update on the districts (sic) response to this issue.

We appreciate your support and patience as we carefully investigate and respond to the critically important need to protect student information.


Dr. Larry Nyland


Third statement
The district responded quickly to notify parents of the improper release of student information by an outside, contracted law firm.

·         We have no reason to believe the student information has been released to any others beyond the family member who initiated the student information request.

·         The district is working to assure the information is returned or destroyed.  We will we follow up with family members of the effected students.

·         Seattle Public Schools is committed to communicating directly with those students and families directly impacted by this error.

·         We are also planning a follow-up communication to inform all district families of the resolution of this student information issue.

·         We deeply apologize for any inconvenience this incident may have caused for our students and families. While an outside law firm released the information, we recognize that the district is ultimately responsible to safeguard student information.


app dad said...

eight thousand children's information was passed on... Is that every kid with an IEP? My kid has an iep does that mean that their info was released? Of course the only place I heard of this is from this blog...


Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but why did the law firm have unredacted copies of 8000 student records from SPS?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Ugh, if you don't get contacted this week, I would call the district. They say they are contacting parents of students affected but I'd follow-up.

Wondering, that's part of the district investigation.

I have heard that in cases in the past against the district - not just Sped ones - that the district might try the tactic of giving the other side so much information that it overwhelms them trying to pick thru for relevant information.

Or it could be one massive error on the part of the district.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the numbers it would appear the guardian received information on all students in special education. 8000 is roughly the total number of special ed students in the district. I'm furious beyond belief that the personal information of these kids (including mine if I am correct in my numbers) was so carelessly handled for whatever reason. I will not sit and let this go. I have completely lost confidence in Seattle Schools. Inexcusable.

Anonymous said...

Was it just active SPS students? What about kids who got services ( I.e., speech ) in a pre K setting but now attend private?

Pissed off

dw said...

reposting for anon, to respond: If you look at the numbers it would appear the guardian received information on all students in special education. 8000 is roughly the total number of special ed students in the district. I'm furious beyond belief that the personal information of these kids (including mine if I am correct in my numbers) was so carelessly handled for whatever reason. I will not sit and let this go. I have completely lost confidence in Seattle Schools. Inexcusable.

When you say: I will not sit and let this go., what does this mean? I truly would like to know, because I can't think of a darn thing an individual can do about this, short of rallying LOTS of people - enough to get the popular media interested.

This particular instance was clearly a mistake by the district, first and foremost. They screwed up. Let's hope for once they man-up to their mistake and don't just hit all the CYA buttons (I know, wishful thinking). Sure, the law firm screwed up as well, but they should never have had all that data.

But the district is giving away massive data all the time, with no notification, let alone a way opt-out, or what it should allow in many cases: opt-in. They give data to whatever shiny new company comes along, like ConnectEdu, CCER/RoadMap, Blackboard Inc. (Fusion), community colleges, the list goes on and on. We need to put a stop to ALL of it, but how? Privacy breach issues posted here on the blog that can affect thousands tend to get a handful of comments, while other issues get dozens or hundreds of comments. Until this changes, I don't see the district changing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

clearly a mistake by the district"

I'll add, perhaps of their own doing (meaning, they intentionally sent out that volume of data, not realizing it was not redacted) or someone clearly did not know what he/she was doing.

I agree about parents being less than worried but we'll get there.

cmj said...

The district responds to bad publicity and lawsuits.

There's a board meeting next Wednesday, 11/19. I'd recommend that people protest that and notify the media of it beforehand. Disciplinary records, medical diagnoses, home addresses, etc, of students should never be released to the public (as seen on KING5). SPS hasn't told us why a law firm would have that information.

I found one SPS policy--3231SP on student data disclosure, but maybe there are other relevant policies? This one also hasn't been updated since Enfield was superintendent. 3231SP is quite casual with student information and that's assuming that SPS is actually following their own procedure.

@Pissed off
The district should have destroyed your kid's SPED records if they left the district, I think.

The school records officer shall "Upon transfer ofthe student to the next level (elementary to middle school, middle school to high school) or upon graduation or transfer outside the district, remove for retention, preservation or destruction in accordance with applicable disposition procedures any records no longer pertinent to educational program placement" (3231SP, bold mine).

Anonymous said...

In the wording of its communication with families and the media, the district is clearly trying to direct blame toward the law firm.
Obviously the law firm stuffed up, but why did the district pass on the records 8000 kids anyway. It was dealing with a complaint relating to 1 child and the information it received from the district should have related to that 1 child only. What scenario could exist where it would be appropriate or necessary for the records for all SPED children to be disclosed to a lawyer in response to 1 child (whether they are redacted or not). Could it be if searching to see if that kid is receiving equitable services compared to other with the same disability??? But would that even be allowable. I mean could I say - I want to see everyone else's records to make sure they aren't being treated differently than me - isn't that like requesting protected information about another person (I bet you couldn't get info from your hospital to determine the treatment you received was the same as accorded to other patients with same illness for example).
WHo in the district gave out these records to the law firm and why. Accountability rests with SPS - the records belong to SPS and were given to the other party by SPS. SPS cannot totally control what happens once data is in the hands of another party although it should expect a law firm would know better.
My big question is that given the steady stream of small and large scandals and stuff-up that SPS makes, how likely is it that this happens on a regular basis? And have they even realize it has or have they covered it up.
What little confidence I have in SPS to keep my kid safe and my kids personal information safe is being eroded even more.

SPS sucks

Anonymous said...

Follow up e-mail from district confirms all special ed students info released.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, do you know if SPS has severed all ties with the law firm for all cases and advice? Or, did they remove the law firm from just this case?

SPS wrote, "We have severed our relationship with the law firm in the handling of this case." The limiting language, "in the handling of this case," worries me and leads me to believe that SPS did not terminate all relationships with the law firm.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm. wonder if this will come up in the State of the School presentation on Monday.....Maybe it should. Maybe lots of people should be there in force, even if not being able to actually attend the meeting. Our family does not use any special education services but if this happens to one group, it can happen to any group.

Seattle Public Schools
Annual State of the District 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014
4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
(wine reception to follow presentation)

Group Health Headquarters
320 Westlake Ave. N., Suite 100
Seattle, WA 98109-5233

-I'm attending

parent said...

"Parents and eligible students who need assistance or who wish to file a complaint under FERPA or PPRA should do so in writing to the Family Policy Compliance Office, sending pertinent information through the mail, concerning any allegations to the following address:

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-5920
Phone: 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327)"

Anonymous said...

Just received email:

Dear SPS families,

A few days ago I notified you of the inappropriate release of student information through our law firm and I promised to let you know when we had more information.

The student information that was given to a parent by mistake includes directory information on over 7,400 students, including date of birth, grade and school assignment. The files also include student identification number, special education assignments, disability categories and special education transportation information. We believe this information includes substantially all of the special education students in the district.

In addition, some data on Roosevelt students was released. That information, for smaller numbers of students, includes discipline data, test results, service models, and scholarship information. At this time, we are not aware that any information was disclosed about general education students who do not attend Roosevelt. The district continues to review all files disclosed by the law firm.

Release of this information is of great concern. We have severed our relationship with the law firm in the handling of this case. Although we don’t believe the information been given to anyone other than the one individual parent, we are taking legal steps to insure that the student record information is returned.

On behalf of the district, I apologize for this breach of privacy. Our goal is to contain any further disclosure of this information and have the data returned to the district and any potential additional copies destroyed as soon as possible.

We will continue to update our families as we have additional information.


Dr. Larry Nyland, Interim Superintendent


Anonymous said...

The district can fire their entire legal dept or face additional the exposure of additional FERPA violations.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Midnight, according to the Times article, the law firm has only been removed from this case but has many others.

I'm attending, I am going to both (I hope).

Out of Control, understand this is all part of what I believe is a bigger plan. People at the top are NOT stupid.

We are to believe this happen:

- guardian initiates some kind of action against the district for his sister. Case assigned to this law firm.

- guardian asks for data on his sister (or possibly some SPed stats but nothing specific to other students)

- the law firm tells the district this, district sends data on many students w/ personal information, law firm (doesn't look at it?) and passes it along to guardian

- guardian tells district and/or law firm that they made a mistake and sent too much data.

- district responds by sending law firm MORE data and telling them to send it to the guardian?

Both the district and the law firm ignore what the guardian told them the first time?


Mia said...


Discovery allows for large amounts of information to be given to law firms.

Anonymous said...

Discovery does not allow the district to hand over other students non-redacted PII information.

The parents of the other students need to be notified in advance of releasing any PII protected information and could ask the judge to deny. It's very rare for courts to allow 3rd parties access to other students non-redacted SPED records.

The district had no business compiling an entire schools SPED case load documents into one file then transmit it unsecured around the district's network then transmit it again unsecured to the law firm. Yes I know for a fact that SPS and PGO both send emails unsecured.
I'm betting these types of documents are currently saved on district employee's unsecured home computers, which is a violation.

The magnitude of this issue calls for the termination of all persons who direct the district's PII compliance which would be the legal dept.

Heads mustroll

Anonymous said...

@ headsmustroll re "The magnitude of this issue calls for the termination of all persons who direct the district's PII compliance which would be the legal dept."

Ha! Now, if this had pertained to the private records of nearly a tenth of the GenEd students in SPS, well maybe. That famous SPS double standard.


Anonymous said...

Did anyone else get an email from an attorney? Apparently there are attorneys looking to start a suit against the district. I didn't receive an email but another parent posted on our schools yahoo group that she had.

Tim P.

Anonymous said...

Lara joined Preg O’Donnell Gillett in 2012 from a background in education and brings substantial practical understanding to her representation of school districts. She has experience teaching children from pre-kindergarten through middle school in California, New York, and Louisiana, where she served as the founding special education director for two post-Katrina charter schools in New Orleans.

connect dots

Been There said...

We've experienced a few breaches firsthand. In our case, the school district was represented by the same firm. My child's name was not redacted when notice of our settlement was posted.
We've had problems with receiving info intended for other families, such as phone messages or correspondence.

Conspiracy Theorist said...

connect dots,

More on Lara:

2013 – Author | Case Study: Strategic Plan Implementation by Seattle Public Schools (Gates Foundation)

Anonymous said...

Wow, there's a whole lot of jumping to conclusions going on here.

First of all, the guardian does not legally have the right to retain documents which are in his possession unlawfully. Melissa, I am really surprised that you would recommend that the guardian retain documents which he received in violation of FERPA. He does not need to retain the documents to prove anything, since he doesn't have a case and he has no standing. He should destroy the documents, and he will likely receive and order from the judge to do so soon.

Second of all, Tim P., no lawyer would take a case against the district. There is no case to make. There is no right of action. If you've got someone on your yahoo list (a yahoo on a yahoo list--I like it) who claims that they want to do this, go ask them about it.

Third, connect dots, unless you have received a communication from the guardian indicating that the specific lawyer you name is at fault, I would suggest you delete your post. There are five lawyers at PODG who work on school litigation, and your implied accusation could be seen as libelous. Of course, you are posting annonymously, but I still think it is irresponsible.

Anybody who suggests filing a FERPA letter, what is it that you think you are going to get? The DOE has already been asked to investigate. Don't waste your money sending them a letter asking them to come and investigate. They aren't going to set up 8,000 investigations of this incident, only one.

Face Palm

Conspiracy Theorist said...

I've NEVER seen Seattle Public School's strategic plan linked directly to the GATES FOUNDATION. Clearly, lara knows something we don't.

Anonymous said...

Just like the district paying out $700K when there was no liability. It's called shaking the tree. It a fact the district is wreck-less in handling PII. Even after notice they continued to release PII documents.

They have a documented pattern of FERPA violations which by themselves where minor like little holes in a dike. The dike has catastrophically failed.

As far as libel goes, I'm very confident. Oh and you should know that its now impossible to destroy the information since it lives on multiple servers owned by very large corporations.

I can find no law the would force those corporations to purge their servers of this data, but you said like you might known something? So post the law!

Connect thedots

Anonymous said...

Connect thedots,

The dike has not catastropically failed. You are clueless if you think a) you have damages or b) FERPA will allow you to sue. The Catholic Archioces of Seattle had a far bigger issue on its hands earlier this year when some maleovent hackers got the ID's including social security numbers of thousands of volunteers in their schools. That information was used to file false tax returns and open credit accounts, and destroyed people's credit. Has anyone successfully sued them? No, because they have no basis, even though many of them have suffered serious losses and may have worry about identify theft for the rest of their lives. The laws are flawed. In this case, there is proof that pii went to one known individual. In the Catholic Archdiocese the PII went to ID thieves. Tell that to your yahoo lawyer. Maybe he or she can find some work there.

I agree with you and Melissa that there is probably more to this case then the attorney at the PODG dumping a lot of files on the guardian; the actions and involvement of the school district are still relatively unknown. It isn't clear to me that the district did not just allow the law firm electronic access to its databases. It also isn't clear to me why personally identifiable information is being sent around in relatively insecure emails.If this is the standard way that SPS has been relaying confidential information, it needs to stop. Previous privacy breaches, if any, should also be looked at.

But I am going to say this again, if you are accusing Lara Hrsuka of this action, then you better either be or have spoken to the guardian. And you yourself better know for sure that only she is at fault and she isn't taking the fall for the district's legal department. Otherwise, you are jumping to conclusions.

Face Palm

Anonymous said...

Why don't the 8000 families file a FERPA complaint? It's easy enough to do. The form is available online. That's part of the corrective action needed.

The school district should inform them of this option in another letter!


Anonymous said...

Lawfirms are rarely given access to client databases. They identify what they need collect in order to respond to discovery responses and the client identifies what they have (custodians, data sources etc) and provides it. (or will permit access for a vendor working with the lawfirm to extract data such as pst or hard drive contents but not an entire database of data) So Ron English and his team needs to be in the forefront of accountability here. Somebody gave the data to the lawfirm. Which happens a lot (firms are bound by attorney client privilege and confidentiality and are paid to prepare (review, redact, withhold, produce) records for production.

If POG can't produce documents w/o proper review and redaction then they (in my opinion) shouldn't be handling any legal work for the district. Every legal case has protection of confidentiality.

Electronic productions can be incredibly complex and lawfirms handling work for the district must have the capacity (expertise, software, litigation document management databases, production protocols in place) to do execute them properly. There are lots of tools and precautions in place at other firms to prevent this from happening.

And whoever sat on the info of the inadvertent production (at SPS or the firm) needs to be fired too. Mistakes can happen but you claw back those productions the minute you know it has happened.

-sps mom

Anonymous said...

Face palm

Have you heard of malpractice?

I know for a fact the district did not have permission from parents to allow the 3rd party to view these records.

I know the Buckley amendment and that the supreme court ruled usually it can't be used to sue. The only remedy is for the DOE to pull federal funding and in this case that's exactly what should happen.

In my opinion this situation is NOT "usual" due to the extent of the information, repeated releases even after notification and the release has the appearance of an act of retaliation against a person suing.

The district will need to prove that it had in place polices and systems to safeguard FERPA protected data plus that it enforced those polices.

They will not meet this test and in light of their current IDEA non compliance this just adds fuel to the fire.

Connect thedots

Anonymous said...


It would be better for parents to file OSPI citizen complaints because OSPI must respond and go thru the motions.

Even a few hundred complaints would cause enormous pressure.

In 2013-2014 there where only 5 complaints.
In 2013-2014 there are currently around 16. If OSPI received 100 more this would influence the metrics being used by the DOE to grade SPS in IDEA compliance.

This is exactly why SPS said THEY were reaching out to DOE for help. SPS is trying to run damage control hoping not to see more complaints from this.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Face Palm, I would suggest that the guardian get a lawyer but I think, until a judge says so, that the lawyer would tell him to keep the evidence. Because yes, it's evidence given to him. Wrongly, but it's evidence.

He has shown no sign of wanting to use it at all except to show the lack of good judgment and ineptness of the district.

Face Palm, we are all entitled to go thru the roster at the law firm. That one of the lawyers seems to have an ed reform background and did work for the Gates Foundation is quite pertinent to SPS. It's public information.

I agree that parents may not be able to sue (but I'm not a lawyer). BUT what parents can do is file a complain with the Washington State Bar association. I"ll give them a call and see what they say. I think if they got hundreds of complaints against one law firm, it might get their attention.

And I note that the rules say you cannot file a complaint based on (partial):

"Errors in judgment: Disagreements about the way a case should be handled, or a mistake."

Well, once is a mistake. Twice? Not so much.

FYI, to the best of my knowledge the DOE has virtually NEVER upheld a FERPA complaint (but there's always a first time). I do not hold much faith in that.

"So Ron English and his team needs to be in the forefront of accountability here. Somebody gave the data to the lawfirm."

Absolutely. But again, the law firm NEVER looked at the files for a random check of redaction? Because the district hired them not as data collectors but as lawyers who you might think would check what information they are given.

Connecting you said this:

" light of their current IDEA non compliance this just adds fuel to the fire."

You and I are connecting the same dots.

People, externally and internally, want this district to look very, very bad. Not just your run-of-the-mill bad but really bad.

Almost like someone should do something about it.

Anonymous said...

Here is the case study referenced above I think. It's from 2013, did this data warehouse go forward? (maybe it was covered on the blog and I missed it.)

wow. that one pager is something else.

In my review I only found one footnote (on the draft report) that mentions FERPA, privacy, safety, security. And it's re: the report itself. Not the data warehouse.



Anonymous said...


You actually think that this Lara Hruska would risk her license to practice law and purposefully send this guardian a boatload of docs during discovery because she worked on the Gates Foundation and she's trying to make the district look bad? And using lax privacy regulation to do so? Is that what you are asserting?

You've gone off the deep end suggesting that this guardian should go to the expense of retaining a lawyer so that he can retain documents that he shouldn't have and that have been widely acknowledged as being present. What purpose would continuing to unlawfully possess them serve? Do you really think he should fight a judge's order to retain them, which I would assume is why you think he should retain a lawyer? He doesn't even have a lawyer for his due process hearing. You have really lost your perspective on this. He doesn't have any more rights to this data then the Gates Foundation does, and I object to you pouring forth bad legal advice to him. If he did hire a lawyer, the lawyer would tell him to destroy the documents.

Neither you nor other poster on this blog can run an investigation. Let the DOE do their job. Then write about the results.

Face Palm

Melissa Westbrook said...

Face Palm, I have no idea what happened. I have no idea if Ms. Hruska was involved with the case and I've said no such thing.

I'm not asserting anything. Other readers are adding pieces to the puzzle (some of which may not fit but are interesting) and I am commenting on them.

Do I think it odd that the law firm - on multiple occasions - received info from the district, didn't look at it - if only for its own protection and its duty to confidentiality when handling sensitive information - and sent it out to an individual? I do.

I don't know what "...that have been widely acknowledged as being present." means.

I also didn't say the guardian should retain the records if a judge orders him to (somehow) return/destroy them.

Readers, some of you really need to READ before you comment and not put words into anyone's mouth.

And what an odd thing to say that the guardian doesn't have any more rights to the data than the Gates Foundation? What does Gates have to do with this issue?

You can object all you want but I have never said I'm a lawyer. I'm offering an opinion. In fact, I'm telling him to GET a lawyer.

I'm not doing an investigation per se but reporters rarely sit back and wait for things to play out and then "write about the results."

It isn't my job to do an investigation but yes, my job is to see that ALL facets are examined, follow what happens each step along the way and THEN report on that.

I sense a whiff of someone trying to protect the law firm and its lawyers.

Anonymous said...

Parents have evidence of numerous FERPA violation over the past two years.This evidence will be presented to the DOE and SPS school board.

These violations where reported timely to SPS legal dept. I have asked SPS to provide the following evidence to the board;

1. What changes did SPS make to the way FERPA compliant information is handled after being notified of violations in 2013.

2.Where the affected students parents notified of the disclosures ASAP.


Anonymous said...

The special ed community, or part of it, may be upset, but the greater SPS community doesn't seem to much care. Almost no comments from general education parents at Roosevelt. Barely a handful of comments on the Seattle Times story covering the error.

SPS worries only when the city outrage gets to a certain level. It won't reach that level this time. The incident will be marked as a one time failure and largely forgotten by majority of staff and SPS parents by the end of the year. My prediction.

Just Sayin'

mirmac1 said...

I don't doubt it Just Sayin' Too bad it's not a one-off by any means. Here's a complaint on one of the numerous times I've received student PII

Face Palm

We can wait for Arne's DOE until we're blue in the face. The recipient's not taking legal advice from Melissa, nor from you. I suppose it boils down to who has the balls to force the district to follow the law - obviously the regulators won't, at least public opinion makes SPS legal uncomfortable.

BTW, one needn't have standing to file an OSPI complaint of the IDEA violation. I suggest the angry do it.

cmj said...

Melissa wrote People, externally and internally, want this district to look very, very bad. Not just your run-of-the-mill bad but really bad.

Almost like someone should do something about it.

I said something rather similar to a friend earlier today. I don't know what went on here -- I don't have all the information -- so I'm working with possibilities here, not conclusions. Here's what I know:
1. The mayor is angling to bring the school district under his control.
2. Some people with plenty of money would like to see charter schools come to Seattle.
3. SPS has a nasty history of FERPA violations.
4. SPS has a history of occasionally making incredibly stupid decisions.

I'm seeing two possibilities.
1. Someone in SPS and/or the law firm made a massive mistake. We don't know why the law firm had unredacted data for over 7000 students. It's obvious that the law firm made a mistake by sending the data to the girl's brother.
2. Someone is trying to make SPS look bad so that charters or mayoral control will look like a better option.

I generally assume, when these things happen, that the "mistake" (by all parties) was actually a mistake, because incompetence in far more common than conspiracies. After all, the 2002 $35 million shortfall in SPS was caused by an accounting error. But this...this seems like too much to be mere incompetence, even SPS. I don't know.

I don't know anything about the law firm and have no data on them. I'm pretty sure that they're more competent than SPS, since they would have gone out of business or been sued out of existence otherwise.

Do we trust the DoE to do their job and get to the bottom of this? Well, that depends on how much you trust educational administration at the federal level vs. the state level. I don't know much about the DoE but I highly doubt that they would pull federal funds from SPS, even for over 7000 FERPA violations. I very much doubt that SPS will get more than slap on the wrist. Negative PR is going to be much more effective at getting SPS to fix the problems, I think.

cmj said...

Well, that depends on how much you trust educational administration at the federal level vs. the state level

Sorry, meant city, not state.

Anonymous said...

I have 1200 pages of physical documents and 382 electronic documents received via public information request. In preparation for filing a request for due process hearing, I reviewed the physicals today and found 4 more FERPA violations.
All 4 are disclosure of other students information.

Today I received an email from the district's legal dept offering to come to my home and retrieve the documents. How ironic because just last Friday the district told KOMO4 I was basically lying about FERPA violations.

Maybe they should have started being serous about FERPA years ago and if you think about it maybe if they would have just followed the IDEA all those SPED records would never have been compromised.

The districts win at any cost legal strategy is hurting students and needs to end.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I don't think the DOE will do much. A good "tsk tsk" but who knows? Hope springs eternal.

Anonymous said...

This is the Guy to talk to.

Daniel Schreier

Education Program Specialist

United States Department of Education

(202) 245-6552


Mary Griffin said...

Daniel Schreier is the OSEP program specialist who is in charge of the DOE's current oversight of the SPED programming and funding. Michael, I am not sure that he would be in charge of FERPA investigations, as that is a different department.Michael, can you please clarify for us that you have communicated with Mr. Schreier and that he is the correct person to contact for FERPA violations, as it seems rather unlikely to me.

I am not going to comment on all the back and forth about the FERPA violations. But I do know that many SpEd parents are claiming that they did not receive any emails from SPS regarding this issue. I believe they should probably send out snail mail notifications, with translated versions for families who do not speak English.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Reprinting for Anonymous (NO anonymous comments):

f you plan to attend the next SPS Board Meeting on Wednesday, sign up for public testimony is from 8am MONDAY MORNING!

E-mail &/or call (206) 252-0040 with:
- legal name
- telephone number
- e-mail address
- topic you would like to address

Melissa Westbrook said...

"It isn't clear to me that the district did not just allow the law firm electronic access to its databases."

That is one crazy statement. I hope that's NEVER the case.

Anonymous said...

"Daniel Schreier is the OSEP program specialist who is in charge of the DOE's current oversight of the SPED programming and funding"

I mentioned Daniel because at the core this is related to SPED and should be used to ascertain SPS compliance. I believe Daniel should consider this FERPA issue along with the other FERPA issues with documents SPED parents receive when trying to advocate for their children.

Like I said, SPS legal dept win at any cost strategy is harming students.


Anonymous said...

I don't believe an outside 3rd party accessed the IEP online DB.

The document containing the 2013-2014 SPED roster was an EXCEL spread sheet. It was created by a district staff member then emailed out to SPED administrators/staff as an attachment.

Since the spread sheet contains the names of every SPED student in 2013-14 school year it's likely when the request for information was worked the email was retrieved since the students name was in the spread sheet.

My understanding is, SPS legal was delaying releasing the information and I'm guessing there was a "compel to release" motion made which the judge granted. In a rush to comply nobody thought to check the attachments or thought anyone would be so careless as to send out this information in the first place.

A simple use of the word "confidential" in the subject line would have allowed someone to perform a second level of filtering and probably prevented this.

Tim P.

mirmac1 said...

My child's information would be on that list, yet we received no notice (she's not in SpEd this year).

The district should make every effort, whether via phone call or US mail - to contact parents/guardians in the parents' native language.

And along with the Ron English review of Title IX compliance, he should take a close look at FERPA and IDEA compliance. Then he should resign.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So Tim, you seem to be quite in the know, very helpful. I'm doing my own checking as well. But you said this:

"...thought anyone would be so careless as to send out this information in the first place."

Again, a mistake is one time. The district made a mistake and then the law firm did. (I would have thought the law firm - if only to protect itself - would have opened it and randomly checked it.)

But there was a second time and that kind of "rush", to me, sounds negligent.

Miss Waterlow said...

This is a one heck of a rumor frenzy. I understand why people are upset and frantic, but wouldn't it be logical to wait until you have actual information before spinning whole stories of what "probably" "maybe" happened? Melissa, I do think you've gone out of bounds on this one. I'm very much with Face Palm.

Btw, it's ironic to see this group getting upset that someone might be out to make the district look bad. I don't know anyone who trashes the district more vehemently than the commenters on this blog - other than ideologues who hate all things public and who say we shouldn't fund SPS because it's an incompetent horrible wasteful filthy union-ridden guv'ment bureaucracy. You're practically in cahoots. Did I see someone actually say that the DOE should revoke funding to punish the district? Oy.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I do have actual information. It comes from the district. What have we "rumor frenzied?" I have only presented basic facts as I know them.

mirmac1 said...

Miss Waterlow,

I also have direct information. Know that, while this blog is a good place to vent, there are numerous ways many of us try to work with the district. On another occasion, I obtained IEPs and signed consent forms by accident and returned them with constructive suggestions on how to avoid a reoccurrence. In the end, we must strive to have a district that has internal controls and sound procedures. No more C-CAPs or RC-CAPS, just quality education please.

Anonymous said...

Miss Waterlow, I know what I'm talking about.

'Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.'

horses mouth

Anonymous said...

The two U.S. Department of Education officials who are leading up the department’s efforts regarding Seattle Public Schools are Daniel Schreier ( and Mark Robinson (

-- Michael

cmj said...

@Miss Waterloo,

I didn't suggest that the DoE withdraw federal funding. I pointed out that the only thing that the DoE can theoretically do here is withdraw federal funds -- which they are not going to do, for obvious reasons -- so there's really nothing that the DoE can do to enforce FERPA compliance. I don't want to see the DoE pull funds. I do want to see SPS comply with federal law.

I'd love to live in a world where we could trust SPS to always do its job, or to be honest about its failures, but we don't. SPS manages to get many things right -- or else the schools really would be failing, instead of some of them being pretty good -- but SPS also fails frequently (often spectacularly).

Jill Geary said...

I just received a notice that the law firm, Preg, O'Donnell and Gillett, has been terminated. Does anyone know if that is from the case or from ALL SPS cases?

They need to be terminated from all cases.

Jill Geary said...

Word from Legal is that they are in process of terminating Preg O'Donnell from all cases. As anyone in legal knows, this is a process; but that is good news for Seattle parents. Hopefully we will see less tsunami and more respect and reason!

Been There said...

Good. Insufficient, given the breathtaking scope and frequency of the school district's violations of IDEA, but necessary.

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