This story has been updated with a message from Plymouth School District, below
Did hackers gain unauthorized access to Plymouth Schools’ computer systems over the weekend, causing all the resulting havoc?
Was a software or hardware failure the culprit?
Or was it some unruly force of the universe rebelling over the increasing reliance on technology in schools?
These are questions many are asking as to why a “cybersecurity incident” led to the Plymouth School District’s computer servers, main website and the Skyward student information, grading, scheduling, billing and overall management system to be taken offline this week. An investigation is underway, according to administrators, and clear answers are still unavailable.
Teachers, staff and the more than 2,000 students in the district have been without access to their usual technology at school, causing much chaos and a sudden scramble to revert to alternate methods of instruction and work submission. Google Classroom – which teachers use for sharing instructions, materials and assignments with students – is still functioning, but cannot be accessed from school.
Because this is the last week of the semester, when older students are normally taking finals, wrapping up projects and turning in work electronically and teachers at all grade levels are recording student progress and finalizing grades online, the disruption has been intensified.
Mid-morning on Sunday, administrators emailed this message to parents district-wide: “We have experienced a cybersecurity breach that may include personal info. We are investigating the matter and working to restore our systems. Our communication options currently are limited, but we will send more info via Skylert (the Skyward alert system) as we are able.”
Students had no school on Monday and it was a professional development day for staff, with trainings and meetings planned, but those sessions were called off and teachers were advised to work from home, where they could still connect to the Internet on their own phones and other devices.
“Over the weekend, we detected a cybersecurity incident that required us to temporarily take some of our computer systems offline,” Coordinator of Community Communications Jamie Piontkowski told the Review on Tuesday.
Since that initial Skylert message, “we’ve learned that, until the investigation is complete and they know what actually happened, the correct term is ‘cybersecurity incident,’ which may or may not have been a breach,” she said.
“The investigation is ongoing, so the causes and results of the incident are not yet known,” she added.
When asked why there had still been no further announcement about the situation as of late Tuesday, Piontkowski said that “we are following the advice of our legal and forensic consultants with regard to the release of information.”
She politely declined the Review’s offer to post any official statement verbatim that the district might wish to make and confirmed that administrators have the technological capability to send an update if desired.
“We currently are working to restore our systems as quickly and safely as possible,” Piontkowski concluded. “Our schools can still operate and students can still learn, even though some of our methods have to be adjusted.”
When the Plymouth School Board met Tuesday night, little was said about the situation although Superintendent Dan Mella briefly addressed it during his report at the end of the meeting.
“For those of you who are unaware, we did have a cybersecurity incident that took place over the weekend and we are working through that to both investigate and assess. This caused us to take some systems offline and we are rebuilding those and putting those back online as we speak,” he reported.
He praised the district’s technology team, which consists of three full-time staff members, for their response.
“Their work is exemplary,” he said. “They’ve been going on very little sleep since Saturday.”
“We’re mostly up and running but there are still some things we need to work on,” he added.
When questioned by the Review after the meeting, Mella noted that there are still many unknowns and facts he is not at liberty to share.
He confirmed that district phone systems were also taken down initially, but those went back up first.
“The only thing we’re really missing right now is the Internet,” he added.
As of Wednesday morning, however, the district website and Skyward still could not be accessed online.
Update Wed. Jan 18
The Plymouth School District sent the following message to families via the Skyward notification system Wednesday evening:
We recently experienced a cybersecurity incident that required us to take some of our systems offline. We are investigating the incident; we will not know more about the causes and results until the assessment is completed.
In the meantime, our amazing tech crew is working hard to continue restoring the systems as quickly and as safely as possible. Internet access can be restored once we have completed installation of new updated cybersecurity software. We don’t have an exact date/time when we will be fully functional.
Because of the unusual nature of the past two days, Plymouth High School is extending the first semester through Tuesday.
We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your continued patience and support.
Plymouth School District
Correction: The email notification from administrators was sent mid-morning on Sunday, not Monday.