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Baltimore County School Superintendent Angers Council Over Lack Of Ransomware Details

Darryl L. Williams was appointed superintendent of schools for Baltimore County Public Schools on May 21, 2019, by the Board of Education. Williams announced on January 23rd that he would not seek a second term when his contract expires on June 30. (photo by John Lee/WYPR)
John Lee
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams

The Baltimore County Council grilled School Superintendent Darryl Williams Tuesday over details about November’s ransomware attack.

Council members were not happy with Williams’ answers.

Democratic County Councilman Tom Quirk asked Williams if the school system paid off the hackers and if so, would insurance cover it. Williams’ answer dealt with the overall cost of the ransomware attack.

“I won’t have those final amounts until later in spring, maybe May or June,” Williams said.

So, Quirk asked again.

“I guess the direct question is did Baltimore County Public Schools pay ransom? It’s just a direct question.”

Williams responded, “We’ve used our resources to help us repair and restore.”

Quirk said he wants an answer on whether a ransom was paid before the council signs off on the school system’s budget this spring. The public schools account for about half of the county’s $3.8 billion spending plan.

“I’m not prepared to vote on the budget until we have a better answer on that one,” Quirk said.

In a statement to WYPR afterwards, Quirk said Williams’ answers were unacceptable and an example of very poor transparency.

Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, asked Williams who is overseeing the ransomware investigation. 

Williams said, “So, I don’t want to misspeak but I think I can, we’ll have to follow up with you on that.”  

Jones then pressed Williams why he can’t explain why he can’t give more details about the cyberattack.

“Can you tell us why you can’t talk and just point the finger at somebody else and say ‘the FBI told me not to say, the board told me not to say, the insurance company told me not to say,” Jones said. “I mean, throw them all under the bus because right now you’re the guy sitting on the hot seat and everybody’s looking at you as if you’re the guy who is not sharing the information.”

Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins put it more bluntly.

“You are the superintendent of Baltimore County schools, and you can’t say nothing about nothing.”

Williams did say the criminal investigation continues, as does the work by school employees and outside experts.

“To help us to work through the repair and recovery and a lot of that is the mitigation so this wouldn’t happen again,” Williams told the council.

The November 24, 2020 ransomware attack cripppled the school system. Officials described it as catastrophic. Classes were canceled for three days as officials scrambled to reconnect students to teachers so virtual learning could continue.

Republican Councilman Todd Crandell told Williams council members and constituents are frustrated and angry over issues including the ransomware attack, hybrid learning, and restarting sports.

Council members asked Williams about what his administration is doing to address employees’ late and incorrect W-2s and an interruption of health insurance.

“That was probably the hardest hit for our school system, to have the cyberattack and to restore our human resources,” Williams said.

He said he understands the frustration that has come from both the cyberattack and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that there are areas for improvement,” Williams said. “But I understand that there’s been mixed opinions about every area and so I understand where you’re coming from. We will try and work really hard to lessen this frustration.”

Last week, the school system began bringing students back to school buildings that had been closed for nearly a year because of COVID. They started with children in pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade and those who attend the county’s four schools for disabled students.

The phase-in will continue for the next month. Parents have the option to have their children continue with full time virtual instruction. Returning students are in classrooms twice a week.

Republican Councilman David Marks asked Williams if he is considering increasing that to four days a week. Williams was non-committal.

Williams said, “Whether it’s during the week, whether it is weekends, whether it’s extended summer, we want to provide as many options for our students to really accelerate the learning.”

Williams said the vaccination of teachers continues. He said more than 900 doses of the vaccine were administered to staff last Sunday.

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