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Teachers Union Criticizes BCPS Response To Cyberattack

Baltimore County Public Schools

The unions that represent teachers and principals in Baltimore County say they feel marginalized and disrespected by the school system’s response to last month’s ransomware attack.

In a scathing letter sent Sunday to School Superintendent Darry Williams, the unions paint a picture of a school system in disarray.

The letter says school officials need to come clean that they are having to rebuild its systems. It says teachers can’t get to payroll and student records; that the school system keeps changing how it’s having teachers swap out devices and that the lack of communication is leading to chaos.

Cindy Sexton, the president of TABCO, The Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said the union has been meeting daily with BCPS leadership, but questions still were not being answered.

Sexton said, “The concerns were just compounding, and it was time to share everything our members were feeling and going through.”

Sexton said she understands the criminal investigation into the cyberattack limits what school officials can say, but they should be able to tell teachers, “This is when we might hear something. This is what we’re doing to deal with this.”

Mychael Dickerson, Superintendent Williams’ chief of staff, said he understands the frustration. He said school officials have said all along the cyberattack was a catastrophic event.

“We are having the figure out ways to recover,” Dickerson said. “And in some instances that may include rebuilding some of our infrastructure. But I would also point out the fact that we were able to get instruction back up fairly quickly. That was our number 1 priority.”

The November 24 ransomware attack canceled classes for 3 days.

Sexton said the swapping out of teachers’ laptops was the final straw.

“These device swaps have been a disaster,” Sexton said.

The letter, which was written by Sexton and Tom DeHart, Executive Director of CASE, the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, states when teachers tried to make the laptop exchanges last week, “We waited, or were told there were no devices, or were given a broken device. And then we saw that there was no software on the devices, not even the Microsoft Office Suite.”

The letter points out that school officials keep changing the plans for how devices are being reimaged and replaced following the ransomware attack.

In a letter Monday, Williams responded to the unions, saying he recognizes the complications involving reimaging and repairing teachers’ laptops.

Williams wrote he is committed to improving communications as the school system deals with the twin crises of the ransomware attack and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will get through this and work on ways to strengthen our partnership and communication,” Williams said.

As for the ramifications of the cyberattack, Williams wrote, “The solutions are not going to happen quickly. It will take time to address each of our systems and bring them back safely.”

The superintendent and union leaders were to meet Monday evening.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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