One or more students were allegedly responsible for the massive data breach that struck the district late last year, according to sources briefed on a preliminary investigation conducted by a firm contracted by the district.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer’s administration won’t make the findings public, stating it is “attorney-client privileged material.” The district hired the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott to investigate the data breach, which claimed more than 23,000 passwords. Investigation followed reporting in the Paterson Times about the data breach.
Shafer did not respond to a series of questions sent to her last Friday. Her spokesman, Paul Brubaker, said, “As you have been informed, the document you are requesting is protected by the laws governing attorney-client privilege. At this time, no one has the authority to waive attorney-client privilege.”
Shafer and her spokesman had denied the data breach occurred in the face of incontrovertible evidence earlier in the year while publicly stating the district is taking various steps – changing all passwords and requiring two-factor authentication — to harden the security of its computer systems.
“I’m still waiting to see the report,” said school board member Kenneth Simmons, chairman of the technology committee, earlier in the month. He said the district should disclose the findings to inform the public. “You really want to ease people’s minds and show the district is on top of it.”
Simmons said Fortune 500 firms, including credit reporting agency Equifax, have experienced data breaches over the past years.
The data breach happened in Oct. 2018, but the district was unaware until a reporter contacted officials for comments in May 2019.
School board members were told of the findings in a closed-door meeting in September 2019. A month earlier, the Paterson Education Association, the teachers’ union, filed a notice of claim against the district.
The claim notice accused the district of “wrongful actions” and “inaction” related to the data breach. It accused the district of “negligence” and “invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts” and “failure to destroy certain records” and “failure to notify explicitly following breach.”
School board members were not aware of the claim notice, often a precursor to a lawsuit.
John McEntee, Jr., president of the Paterson Education Association, said the union is still investigating the matter. He declined to further comment.
“That’s probably why she’s citing attorney-client privilege,” said school board vice president Nakima Redmon referring to the union’s claim notice. “I can see the logic.”
The district has hired law firms to conduct investigations in the past. For example, the report produced by former New Jersey Supreme Court justice John Wallace into the basketball scandal at Eastside High School was made public.