LIVINGSTON, NJ — Two weeks after Livingston Public Schools (LPS) announced that its system was compromised, the district is still without its servers and continues its investigation and district-wide response to the encrypting of the technology systems.
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, there have only been seven days of school since the data was compromised on Nov. 22, but the lack of technology has been an adjustment for staff and students. In a statement to the school community on Friday, Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block reassured parents that the technology issue has been the district’s top priority.
“We have learned that, even with our technology staff working nights and weekends, recovery has many moving parts and restoring a technology system from the ‘ground up’ on a large scale takes a significant amount of time,” he said. “We are attempting to accomplish months of work in a matter of weeks. We have made some meaningful progress over the past two weeks, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We know more, but are still seeking information and answers.”
As the investigation continues and the district works through its recovery plan, Block said that meaningful strides have been made in the district’s efforts to restore its capacity to “utilize technology throughout the district."
In addition to sharing some details about the recovery process, the superintendent also requested patience from the community, reiterating that the district’s consultants have said it could take weeks for students, teachers, parents and faculty “to begin to feel technologically back to ‘normal’ after [the] cyber attack.”
Normalcy might look a little different for the time being, but Livingston High School Principal Mark Stern said teachers and students are already beginning to get the hang of pens and paper.
“Our teachers have been outstanding,” said Stern. “When things were down, we went back to a little more old-school schooling; but at the end of the day, it’s still about exchanging ideas, and it’s still about thinking and communicating whether you’re going to do that through technology or not.
“When we first went 1:1, what we always talked about was that technology is a tool just like any other tool in a larger arsenal of all the things that our teachers have at their disposal and that our students are learning how to use. If one’s not working, we just have to use something else; we shouldn’t be depending on any one mode of doing things anyway, and the teachers have been unbelievable. They rallied, they’ve been flexible with the students, they’ve been understanding, and everyone’s been willing to do whatever they need to do until we get through this.”
Stating that he is more addicted to his phone and Email than he cares to admit, Stern added that he understands the frustration likely occurring among students, but that he hopes the situation has only been “an inconvenience to them rather than a shift in how the world works.”
“My hope would be that nothing [the students] are experiencing in their classes is a brand-new experience,” he said. “Hopefully conversation and pen and paper and all that has been part of the experience all along.”
Block has also been extremely impressed with “the flexibility, creativity and professionalism [Livingston’s] teachers have shown since this occurred,” stating that the teachers at all nine schools are “clearly determined to move our students forward academically despite the setback.”
He noted in his letter to parents that the district is just as anxious as they are to have all systems back in use and that “resources will continue to be deployed” to enhance the district’s efforts.
In addition to the professional consultants who are assisting in these efforts, the district is also working with a technology firm that partnered with the City of Baltimore when the city’s systems were recently infected by a similar virus, according to Block.
“As this situation has unfolded, we have learned about similar occurrences in other school districts, colleges, businesses and government entities throughout the country,” he said. “Unfortunately, there have been others even more recent than ours.”
Block explained that he was recently that another New Jersey school district whose systems were compromised at the end of September was still addressing some issues with their systems two months later.
In a meeting with staff members and parents held shortly after Livingston’s cyber attack, Block expressed that the district would “most likely not be on solid footing with technology until December break.”
“While in the digital age we have become accustomed to quicker fixes, everyone we speak with who is familiar with these crimes, reminds us that we have weeks, not days, of rebuilding ahead of us,” he said on Friday. “Again, considering how far we have already come, I believe we will know more and become much more functional between now and winter break.”
Meanwhile, Block stated that data recovery efforts are ongoing, but that the district has been advised not to share specifics about these data recovery efforts due to the criminal investigation.
He did, however, share the following updates:
- The district continues to work to restore all aspects of the Genesis system, but remains unable to provide broad access to Genesis or to create report cards.
- Students are currently receiving academic feedback through graded and reviewed assignments and assessments from teachers. For now, these assignments and assessments will be their primary source of academic feedback.
- Block urged parents to communicate with their children about how they are doing in their classes.
- He also reiterated that teachers will not be able to respond to individual grade requests from parents.
- This week, the district began the difficult process of getting its PC-based computer devices cleaned to ensure that they are virus-free.
- The district is systematically addressing 4,000 potentially impacted devices
- Technology is being used productively in classrooms throughout the district.
The district remains confident that the servers, which have been compromised and infected with a software designed to encrypt data called Ransomware, were compromised by an entity that is not associated with the Livingston community of Livingston Public Schools.
The Livingston Police Department is working with county, state and federal agencies to further the investigation. More information will be provided as it becomes available.
See the hyperlinks below for related articles: