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.
- discipline records including infractions, disciplinary measures taken and race of students
- 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?
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
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
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.