Education

Modesto school district bedeviled by cyber attack. Teachers ‘have just about had it’

Sylvan Union School District sign in front of their offices on Sylvan Ave.
Sylvan Union School District sign in front of their offices on Sylvan Ave. Modesto Bee

More than a month ago, Sylvan Union School District put in a help ticket for costly assistance to combat a malware attack on its computer systems.

As of Thursday, the IT professionals were still working on it.

Sylvan Superintendent Debra Hendricks said the Modesto district is “closer and closer every day’’ to restoring fully functioning computers for staff and students. The virus discovered Feb. 28 has affected Sylvan’s 10 elementary schools and three middle schools.

“We hope by next week we are fully back,” Hendricks said. The hackers have not gained access to the confidential information of students and staff, she said.

Sylvan’s school board expected the costs of removing the virus and safeguarding computers would exceed $100,000 when it approved an emergency action March 12 that waived the bid process for hiring outside technical support. Shortly after the computers acted up in late February, Sylvan hired Datapath of Modesto to contain the malicious software, keep it from causing further damage and restore systems.

Hendricks had no estimate on the total cost of the technical assistance and repairs. State law requires competitive bidding for expenditures over $92,600, but school districts can waive the rule in emergencies requiring immediate action to prevent the loss of property or essential services.

At the time of the March 12 board resolution, essential services were down districtwide and staff and teachers had no access to cloud-based data, networks and platforms using the district’s Internet connection.

Report cards were delayed for students at Sylvan’s middle schools. Though the virus did not infect the personal devices of students, many could not read online textbooks on their Chromebooks.

In an announcement last month, Hendricks reassured staff and parents that there was no indication the hackers had accessed the personal information of students and staff members. According to her communication on March 8, online operations were returning in phases and “all schools should be back online” the following week.

Four weeks later, the cyber attack is still causing issues.

A source told The Modesto Bee that state testing has been delayed and staff were again told to shut down their devices Thursday. “We teachers have just about had it,” said a staff member who didn’t want to reveal his or her name.

Hendricks said the virus that infected the computers is sophisticated. She noted that the outside experts were putting measures in place to protect the district’s computer programs from hackers.

Hendricks said most systems have been restored. “We have been using our computers for a while.”

School district officials were not aware of the origin of the malware attack. Datapath did not return a call from The Bee.

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