Another Data Fiasco at LDOE, and Another Reason Charters Pose a Danger to Our Children and Communities

It’s been a few weeks since this story first broke, and I expected more folks to cover in more depth than it has been. I have been focused on election related posts and research and let this one go in the hopes someone else would pick this up and explain the implications, but so far that has not happened. What’s even more disturbing is that this is a crisis in motion and the public has not been truly informed about what happened and what is going on.

Mercedes Schneider does a pretty good job summarizing the story by Danielle Dreilinger. LDOE released the news on Friday, October 10th, hoping it would be lost in the weekend news cycle, which it largely has been. Hundreds of laptops were surplussed, with hundreds Social Security numbers and quite likely, disability records, home addresses and phone numbers. The only reason this was discovered was when some recent purchasers of the equipment notified the department.

According to Patrick Dobard, the RSD has never verified any of the equipment they’ve surplussed, over the entire existence of RSD, has been wiped of very sensitive, very valuable student data.

The Recovery system oversees about 50 charters in New Orleans, plus more in Baton Rouge. Every year, a small number of charters have closed. Dobard said his office has trained charter staff on property-disposal procedures but not checked up on devices until now. “We relied on the operators actually following the protocol,” he said.

The RSD has been in existence since 2004. It has taken the state 10 years, and a concerned citizen, for the department to realize student data needs to be protected, and that charter schools that have been disbanded and have no employees are not the best custodians of data or the future of our children.

The former spokesman for Future Is Now, which was running John McDonogh, when it was shut down by the State, said it best and in a way so obvious it makes you wonder how RSD could not have foreseen problems with its approach. Namely, to expect charters that no longer have employees to follow protocol is ludicrous.

Former Future Is Now spokesman Gordon Wright said the organization had no response, because it no longer exist[s]. [emphasis mine]

Many charters, like Future is Now/John McDonogh, have been shut down for acting irresponsibly. This school is a saga all in and of itself, and was closed before its charter was officially up for review. How ridiculous and irresponsible is it to expect poorly run, or irresponsible organizations to follow proper protocol when they may not have money to pay salaries or any employees to follow said protocol and have not exhibited the best judgment when they were in operation?!?

Dozens of charters have closed down and changed hands, and even more RSD direct run schools have come and gone. By their own estimates, RSD has lost control of over 1600 items, including laptops. Those are the items they lost or miscoded in the last 4 years. They have lost so many items over the 10 years they have been in operation there is probably no way to account for them all.

A 2013 state audit faulted the Recovery School District for not being careful enough about handling property. It said 1,633 items had been lost or stolen over a four-year period, totaling $2.7 million. Dobard said at the time that 70 percent of those items were miscoded and still in use elsewhere.

This does not include the many thousands of items they have intentionally auctioned off to anyone with an IP connection and a computer or cellphone. One of the easiest ways hackers can obtain information is from lost or stolen computers, or computers that have simply been handed over to them, courtesy of, John White, Patrick Dobard, and the State of Louisiana.

Over the course of the existence of the RSD, they have spent over a billion dollars of taxpayer money. This year alone they will be running no schools and will be funded with close to 20 million dollars that goes to the mostly 6 figure salaries of RSD personnel. Their only job is to oversee the schools they’ve chartered to dozens of entities, many with shaky backgrounds, like they’ve done so well with laptops over the past 10 years. Patrick Dobard is the head of RSD, and he needs to be fired immediately for allowing this to happen. The entire RSD organization should be shut down and a reputable firm should be contracted with to handle oversight of the RSD schools, which specified duties and consequences and liabilities for failure to perform those duties, like not handing over hundreds of thousands of SSN’s to hackers annually.

As bad as all this sounds, this situation is much worse than most people realize. While the most obvious data people would find on these laptops belongs to the students served by these schools, there is much more potentially at risk here. Schools have access to the entire roster of food stamp recipients in the state. This is called the FNS file or the “SNAP” file. It comes from Social Services every year and lists every food stamp recipient. It gets matched by schools and school districts to their student rosters. (Of course I know about this because this was just one of the many programs I oversaw at the state.) Almost every school district, and charter school, downloads a complete listing of this roster every year. These files are used to determine which students qualify for Free lunches without the need of filling out a Free Lunch application. This roster contains, First name, Date of Birth and the SSN of every citizen (not just students every man, woman and child) in the State of Louisiana that received Food Stamps in the past year.

We never had entire school districts suddenly cease to exist before, so the chances of this falling into the wrong hands was minimized by these files only being known to a few experienced individuals that would remain employees of school districts. In the charter school churn era, there is no question in my mind that hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as a million, of Louisiana citizens have had their information turned over to hackers for years now because of the lax regulation of charter schools, and the intentional charter school churn. This churn, to date, has not resulted in most charter schools doing any better than traditional public schools, and many charter schools have done much worse. Charter schools and the Recovery school district have left school facilities they took control of that were in perfect working order, in condemned states when they leave. They abandon the kids they were unable to serve in worse educational straits than when they found them. And now we have clear evidence they act without any regard for student privacy or safety in regards to handling student data. What’s more, we LDOE and RSD failing to take even the most basic step to safeguard our children, and even our adult citizens of this state. It is time for the failed experiment that is RSD and LDOE led school reform to come to an end.

DOA is sending employees around the state to wipe the laptops from just the last batch of auctions. They have been working around the clock, nights and weekends, to fix the absurd failings of the RSD and LDOE. Unfortunately their work will only scratch the surface. These laptops and desktops and servers have been sold for as many as 10 years without anyone bothering to ensure they did not contain millions of SSN’s of ordinary Louisiana citizens. This is what happens when you put people in charge that worry more about their 6 figure salaries and accommodating charter schools than protecting Louisiana children and citizens. Where are the organizations that pretend to stand for children, like Stand For Children, when children really need them? They are standing with the charters that abuse our children. They are standing with the charters that discard our children and their data. When real danger rears its head, when children are really put in danger, these groups fail to respond. That’s when you know what they are really all about. . and what they are not.

Patrick Dobard, admitted RSD never verified any of the equipment they’ve surplussed has been wiped. Dobard acknowledged he can’t even keep track of the items they theoretically still possess.

We have clear evidence charters are not wiping their equipment, leaving thousands of student records complete with, name, SSN, DOB, discipline, disabilities, grades, addresses and phone numbers.

Millions of student and adult records have been getting exposed for years by an irresponsible RSD that is immune from criminal and civil prosecution.

Current measures will only address the most recent exposures, doing nothing to address 10 years of negligent neglect.

RSD had plenty of money (over a billion dollars) but no common sense and no duty to act unless forced to by outside forces.

This is another clear example that charters schools are only tied to our communities as long as they are receiving a paycheck, and not one second longer.

This is a systemic problem.

RSD and LDOE are refusing to acknowledge how big a disaster this really is. The threat inBloom posed our students was significant, but also theoretical to some degree. This is an actual, verified threat, one that has been going on for a decade, and one which will probably continue under the current management and RSD structure.

The current approach by LDOE is to bury this story on a Friday and get the most recent laptop purchasers to sign affidavits they didn’t use the data for illegal purposes. If these are criminals that have already used this data, would this matter to them? What about the thousands of purchasers over the years. Will anyone be visiting them?