Was Confidential Student Data Accessed in Suffern Central School District? 

We don’t know because an Investigation was delayed Two Months

Despite accusations flying based on little more than rumor and conjecture, unfounded defamatory personal attacks taking place and a community divided, solid information may not be forthcoming directly from the Suffern Central School District for quite some time as a full investigation has to be conducted. Until the results come out, here’s some information gleaned from a Special Board meeting and FOIL requests.

Prior to the fireworks on March 7th, there was a rather interesting Special Meeting of the SCSD Board which was held on February 25th.

On the surface it appeared to be yet another run-of-the-mill (boring) Special Meeting, the bulk of which was held in Executive Session until the video of the bickering and debate was posted on YouTube. 

The discussion was that which most people would imagine had already happened in Executive Session.  That this discussion was had during the public portion of the meeting offered a rare glimpse of transparency that has not been  seen at SCSD District Board meetings in years.

Included are time stamps and paraphrased content. Some content is as close to verbatim as possible.

1:26 Matthew Kern starts the discussion says the meeting is unnecessary as there is a meeting in eight days and that this CoSer (BOCES Cooperative Service Agreement) was discussed at the last meeting. States that it’s a waste of time. He was displeased that he was handed the CoSer three minutes prior and that it was posted on Board Docs at 7:15pm that night.

2:20 Dr. Amany Dgheim informs Mr. Kern that the CoSer was attached to a previous email from Dr. Adams.

2:34 Dr. Dgheim tells Mr. Kern that the CoSer was available two weeks prior. Mr.  Kern refers to the CoSer not being available for the current meeting until 7:15pm that evening. He continues by referring to this “irrelevant, meaningless resolution.” He  questions whether the Board has the authority to grant the Board President (Dgheim) the power to direct any personnel in the district with the exception of the Superintendent to do anything. He then asks Dr. Dgheim to enlighten the board as to where Dr. Dgheim believes that responsibility comes from.

3:32 Mr. Kern states that he doesn’t believe that the board can grant that power. That the board only has the power to direct one person and that is the Superintendent.

3:45 Dr. Dgheim asks Mr. Kern what his source for that information is.

3:48 Mr. Kern replies by stating NYSSBA, (New York State School Boards Association) Policy and that one person reports to us. (the Board)

3:56 Dr. Dgheim states that the law states differently. She continues by stating “the law that was quoted to you today.” (Executive Session perhaps?)

Mr. Kern Questions the existence of a law.  Dr. Dgheim asks if he read the memo but states that she won’t discuss it publicly. She continues to say that the entire board received the same memo which quotes a particular law and that’s what she’s referencing.

4:28 Dr. Dgheim states the  “URGENCY” is because this action was taken two weeks ago and before the two weeks it was suggested by the Board of Education.  CoSers don’t normally require a board vote but ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES TO NOT ACT on the CoSer that was asked for by the Board of Ed.

4:46 Mr. Kern claims that Dr. Dgheim is trying to take the power away from the Superintendent.

Mr. Kern: You still feel it’s appropriate to hold a special meeting and not provide the information to the rest of board and the public until 15 minutes before the meeting.

Dr. Dgheim: We acted on it two weeks ago, so you know what we were acting on? It was the same.

5:50 Dr. Dgheim: The scope of activities under the resolution involves ALL EMPLOYEES OF THE DISTRICT so it is appropriate for a board of education as a whole not the Board President to take the action that its scheduled to take today should this resolution pass. It does not qualify the Board President to give instruction to the staff.  It qualifies the Board President, should the resolution pass to sign on behalf of the District.

The board of education can direct and that has been reviewed with legal counsel.

More back and forth about attorneys and who provided the legal opinion.

The Board President would be directed by the board to sign at the dotted line.

8:10 Melissa Reimer states “I think it’s imperative that we have this this done, and there’s been delay and we need to get it done.”

8:22 Angus McKenzie “The form says Signature of district requesting service, it doesn’t say signature of Superintendent.”

10:22 Mr. Kern points out that the agreement says Superintendent or designee.  He doesn’t believe the board is the designee.

10:54 Dr. Dgheim states “In this situation being that all activities of all staff are going to be looked at it’s extremely appropriate.

11:03 Mr. Kern asks “On a regular CoSer we wouldn’t get involved?”

11:03 Mr. McKenzie “We’ve discussed this in Executive session there is a specific reason why this particular CoSer is going through.  THE INACTION OF THE ADMINISTRATION IS CAUSING THE ACTION OF THE BOARD.” 

11:37 Tom Donnelly states “I believe that Dr. Adams explained to us A FEW WEEKS AGO that we’re not following practice and procedure, that it is him that enters into these agreements…” We can’t give you or anybody the authority if we don’t have the authority.”

12:16 Dr. Dgheim states “The Board of Education has the authority.”

12:25 Paul Shapiro states “If we take a look at the bottom of the contract it comes from their business office.  There is a process here. He goes on to explain the process that includes Superintendents signing CoSers. He refers to Dr. Adams’ email but is told that it’s confidential.

“A little bird has told that there has already been some discussion already with the particular service that we want… so maybe this is something slow in hatching… and I can’t excuse that from happening but the process is there. Mr. Shapiro outlines the process. We shouldn’t be delving into things…”

“…the Board wants this to have been done a week ago, two weeks ago, two months ago WHEN IT WAS FIRST BROUGHT TO OUR ATTENTION and it’s a shame that it wasn’t and if it has been we wouldn’t be here now…”

17:15 Mr. Cairns “The Board of  Education has an Attorney….

  1. We have legal advice on this issue
  2. The Superintendent is not at this meeting so we would delay, delay and unfortunately that seems to be something that continues in the Suffern School District, a great deal of delay.

The issue we are discussing is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, it’s something that has to be done as QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE AND THAT WILL ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT BY DOING THIS. If we continue to delay another month we never know what’s going to happen. And because of this particular situation that we discussed in Executive Session it’s time to move forward.

18:19 Dr. Dgheim addresses Mr. Shapiro “Because of the scope of this particular contract it is NOT APPROPRIATE FOR THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS TO BE EITHER THE INITIATOR OR THE CONTACT PERSON. So that will not be the case in this particular case.

19:05 The vote takes place.

Ayes: Ms. Reimer, Mr. Mckenzie, Dr. Dgheim and Mr. Cairns.

Nays: Mr. Kern, Mr. Donnelly and Mr. Shapiro

19:49 Parent Theresa DiFalco address the board during the public session.

The CoSer agreement was posted along with the agenda.  The Coser agreement as mentioned in the video is a Consulting Services Agreement covering years 2018-2019.

The Consultant is listed as “Corporate Screening and Investigative Group LLC.” The description of the service the SCSD is requesting is “Cyber Security Analysis.”

Based upon what was discussed publicly and what services the CoSer requests, FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests were sent out to various agencies.  Some were modified slightly and re-sent.

A complaint was filed which in part claimed that there was concern that the School District’s systems may be compromised and that confidential student data may have been sent outside the system. In fact, we have reason to believe that confidential student information was accessed by an IP address outside the Suffern Central School District’s system. 

If there is or was a system breach, essentially there are two different scenarios:

  1. Someone on the outside gained access to the system and potentially has or had access to confidential student data.
  2. Someone on the inside gained or had access to confidential student data and forwarded it outside which would be a violation of privacy laws.

The video answers a few questions but leaves many unanswered.  There are a number of disturbing issues that need to be addressed.

Mr. Kern seems intent that the Superintendent must sign the CoSer agreement.  Dr. Dgheim outlined the legal authority the the Board has to direct the business office to sign and execute the CoSer agreement.  Is Mr. Kern concerned about possible legal ramifications by directing a business office employee to sign the CoSer agreement?

If there is any possibility of a breech in the system or any allegation that student information has been accessed outside the system why then would anyone delay an investigation?

The terms “urgent” and “extremely important” are used.  Why wasn’t the CoSer agreement signed and executed previously?

The issue was apparently first brought to the board’s attention “two months ago” why was no action taken two months previously?

“Inaction of the administration” and “adminstration continues not to act” are both troubling; why have other CoSer agreements been signed and executed without delay and this particular agreement has repeatedly been delayed.

As the result of the actions taken by the Board on February 25th, it’s only a matter of time before this issue is investigated.  There are precautions built into the system the the school district uses that will show irrefutable evidence if confidential student information left the system and who was responsible.   

If it is shown that this has occurred any and all those responsible for any improprieties must be held accountable.

What are your thoughts?  Vote in our two question Poll. 

There is additional specific information available that we have chosen to withhold in order to protect student privacy and to avoid the possibility of hindering the investigation.