Salamanca schools among 13,000 districts affected by data breach

The Salamanca City Central School District was one of the 13,000 schools and universities recently hacked with a data breach to Pearson Education, district officials reported last week.

SALAMANCA — The Salamanca City Central School District was one of the 13,000 schools and universities recently hacked with a data breach to Pearson Education, district officials reported last week.

At the Board of Education meeting Sept. 3, Rob Miller, the district’s director of information technology and information systems, updated the board on what happened and the actions taken in the aftermath of the breach.

On Aug. 7, the Western New York Regional Information Center (WNYRIC) and Pearson contact the district concerning the data breach, Miller explained. Salamanca schools use the student assessment program AIMSweb, which is owned by Pearson.

“They had the names of 700 students, but they had no other information,” he said. “This breach could have been any data from 2004 up until we were done with the AIMSWeb version 1.0.”

Miller said AIMSweb and Pearson reported that none of the breached information has been misused, according to their legal counsel and cybersecurity experts.

“The information is what we called directory information, so that’s identifiable information,” he said. “They haven’t found it anywhere and haven’t found it being used for anything.”

Miller said no Social Security numbers, birthdays, home addresses, emails or student IDS were acquired during the breach.

Pearson discovered the breach March 19, Miller said. In the following months, Pearson worked with cybersecurity experts to determine what data was breached, what to do next and how to fix the problem, which led to improving Pearson’s security, Miller said.

“We were notified by BOCES and Pearson of any unauthorized releases,” he explained. “Then we were required by law to notify parents, staff members and students who could have been affected.”

Miller said the district worked with Pearson on how to go about notifying the affected people, including given a template to use when writing the letters. He said they wrote over 600 letters to the addresses they could find for affected students, many of whom left the district years ago.

“I fielded two or three phone calls from parents,” Miller added.

Pearson also provided a phone number for a parent or student to call in the letter. Miller said they are also working on a program to reimburse the district for time spent and cost of mailing.

“I contacted WNYRIC. They couldn’t tell me every single school that was involved, but said it was most schools of their 109 districts when they contacted Pearson,” he said.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the school board meeting was held on the first day of school for students, with several board members commenting on how happy they were to see it.

“I love seeing all the pictures parents are posting on Facebook of the first day of school,” said Meghan McClune, now in her second year on the board. “It’s my favorite day when my feed is flooded with first-day-of-school pictures and everyone is very excited to be back. It’s a good feeling.”

Superintendent Robert Breidenstein noted that students were welcomed into the buildings with school officials, community members, local leaders and even some retired teachers for the district’s third annual reception line gathering.

“It seems to get bigger and better every year,” he said. “We get multiple responses from students, from high-fives to ‘Woo-hoo’s’ to ‘I can’t believe these people are up and awake this early in the morning’ … but it was a great start to the school year.”

As of the first day of school, Breidenstein said enrollment for Pre-K through 12th grade is at 1,395 students, which he said is up again for the third year in a row.

“We have not seen a number this high since before the 2007 school year,” he said. “To see our enrollment up at levels we haven’t seen since the current seniors were in Pre-K is something we can all be proud of.”

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)