Dozens of students' and teachers' private health records were posted publicly online by the Norfolk School System.
The Virginian-Pilot reported on the crisis on Monday, July 13, shortly after the documents' removal, when school district officials were beginning to respond. The story was also shared by the Data Breach Transparency Organization and attracted the attention of the Future of Privacy Forum.
The documents posted by the Norfolk School District included each schools' emergency plans, interior escape route maps, teacher cell phone numbers, and dozens of students' and teachers' private health information, including specific medical conditions.
The school district posted the information on its website last week among a host of other ordinary documents contained in the agenda for an upcoming Norfolk School Board meeting on August 15. It's common practice to post meeting agendas for public record, but officials say the posting of students' private information online was an accident. The district removed the information from its site on Monday morning, July 13.
The information in the documents, which detailed emergency crisis plans for Norfolk schools, included contact information and cell phone numbers for many of the staff with roles in crisis plans, including school resource officers and some school principals. Crisis plans also included the names of several students with seizure disorders, heart conditions, food allergies, asthma, autism, and special mobility needs, as well as the names of several teachers with medical conditions like diabetes, the Pilot reported.
Not only is the posting of these documents dangerous; it's also personal. Schools are required by federal law to keep students' medical records confidential under FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Law.
Despite being posted publicly last week, the documents weren't removed till Monday. Privacy advocates have criticized Norfolk School District officials for not acting more quickly. Khalilah LeGrand, a Norfolk School District spokesperson, said the delay in removing the documents from the Norfolk School Board website was due to technical difficulties in its system.
“It was a page evidently that should have been redacted,” spokesperson LeGrand said. “We... take very seriously keeping student records private.”
The documents posted, which included the identities of individuals responsible for carrying out crisis plans, escape routes for potential crises like school shootings, and internal floor maps could potentially endanger these schools in a crisis.
“There’s a level of detail about security procedures that you wouldn’t want sitting out on the internet,” Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said on Monday.
Follow Virginia Now to stay posted on what's happening in your city as new events in your community unfold.
Do you think the Norfolk School District is to blame, or that this was an honest accident? Share your thoughts in the comments below.