BISD posts private student info online

The Beaumont Independent School District is being very hush-hush after a West Brook student discovered hundreds and possibly thousands of classmates were put at risk of identity theft because the district posted a computer file to the Internet that contained test score information, Social Security numbers and other data, The Examiner has found.

And according to a parent who has detailed information on the findings, the information could have been in the public domain for at least two years without anyone at the administration building knowing.

“The test scores were old, so I guess that could have been there for a while because it hadn’t been updated,” the parent said. “Don’t they pay people to ensure this information is kept private? What about federal laws to protect students and information about them and their families? BISD has to have broken the law by letting this information get out.”

According to the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), student information, including Social Security numbers and grades, is considered confidential.

FERPA requires written permission from parents to release the information that BISD made publicly available on the Web.

In the most extreme cases, violations can result in the loss of federal funding, but no such case is known to have occurred. According to the U.S. Department of Education, violators of FERPA are given warnings and must take corrective action to ensure similar incidents don’t happen in the future.

West Brook Principal Bill Daniels said he could not discuss the situation and referred calls to BISD’s communications department.

The discovery of the private information came after the student Googled their name and discovered a file containing their TAKS scores. The information was two-years out-of-date, so the student back-linked to the original file to see if any updates had been posted and that is when they found the confidential file. The student immediately notified district officials via e-mail and the data was removed the same day, according to BISD.

Craig Eichhorn, BISD’s assistant spokesperson, said he didn’t have a lot of details about the incident but he did confirm the student did nothing wrong and was being commended for his honesty. He said district officials are developing protocols to ensure sensitive information isn’t leaked in the future but that was about all he could say.

“I really wasn’t briefed on this so there isn’t a lot that I can tell you other than to confirm that it did happen and we are sending out a letter to parents to inform them of the situation,” Eichhorn said. “I can’t tell you at this time how many students were affected by this but I think it is safe to say it was several hundred. Jessie Haynes has more information on this so you might try giving her a call.”

Numerous attempts to reach Haynes via cell phone were unsuccessful.

The Examiner also confirmed that BISD Superintendent Carrol Thomas went to West Brook, accompanied by an assistant superintendent, earlier in the week and pulled the student out of class. Thomas is reported to have told the student that he did a good thing by bringing the information to the district’s attention and personally thanked him.

A message left on Thomas’ cell phone seeking comment about this article was not returned by press time, nor was a message left on the cell phone voice-mail for David Harris, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

BISD school board trustee Tom Neild said he also received a call from an upset parent regarding the situation but he has not yet received any information from district officials. He said he is looking into it and should have more answers by Thursday morning.

“I am sending Dr. Thomas a letter asking for information on what happened and how it happened and I expect to get something back tomorrow,” Neild said. “Obviously, I am very concerned that we let confidential student information get put online. I want to know how long it was out there and what we are doing to inform the parents that their children’s information was released.”

Jerry Jordan can be reached at (409) 498-1074, or at jerry [at] theexaminer [dot] com.