Seattle Public Schools security breach impacts thousands of students

Heather Graf reports.

SEATTLE -- Seattle Public Schools sent home a letter to all parents Thursday, notifying them of a security breach involving the private, personal records of thousands of students.

The letter from interim superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland reads in part:

"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."

The breach involves at least 8,000 special education students. The records that were mistakenly shared include their names, addresses, student identification numbers, test scores, disabilities, and many more personal details.

"It is very disturbing," said Cecilia McCormick, who is a parent as well as an active member of the Special Education PTSA.

McCormick said it was another PTSA member to whom those records were mistakenly released, and Seattle Public Schools confirms it was that individual who actually notified them he had been given documents that had not been redacted.

McCormick said that while she is somewhat relieved the information was given to just one individual and not widely distributed, the fact that it happened at all is still upsetting, and raises questions about the long-term protection of privacy within Seattle Public Schools.

"In this instance, because I know who received this information and I trust that he will do the right thing like all of us do to protect our students, I really don't think there will be any ill effects to any families," she said. "But still, you never know the next time."

School board member Harium Martin-Morris said there is no excuse for allowing such a security breach to happen, and said it's something the district takes very seriously.

The district has also cut all ties with the law firm that allegedly made the mistake.

So how do you know if your child's records were compromised?

Seattle Public Schools says it will be following up with the parents of every student that was impacted.

McCormick just hopes this situation prompts changes in protocol within Seattle Public Schools, and the way these private, personal documents are handled.

"In the wrong hands, this information could lead to bullying abuse, and taint people's attitudes towards a certain student and his or her ability to learn," she said.


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