Des Moines Public Schools to extend school year after ransomware attack – Des Moines Register




Des Moines Public Schools canceled classes on Wednesday for a second straight day after a cybersecurity breach of the district’s servers that is being treated as a ransomware attack.
But classes are scheduled to resume Thursday morning after IT staff “made significant progress in restoring many of our systems,” district officials said. Students should expect an offline learning experience with limited internet and no wi-fi.
In addition, the district is extending the school year through June 2 to make up for lost class time. The school year was originally scheduled to end May 31 for students.
The staff and outside consultants have been working since Monday to determine the full impact of the cybersecurity attack that brought Iowa’s largest school district to a halt.
The breach that prompted district officials to shut down the school district’s extensive server and internet network has affected not only classes but bus routing and food and nutrition systems, as well as access to important student documents, interim Superintendent Matt Smith said during a news conference Tuesday.
“We are working to make sure that we can safely get (the network) back up, all of these areas are potentially compromised,” Smith said. “I can assure you our top priority is to get students and staff back in the building to in-person learning.
The district’s IT staff and consultants took the internet and network offline Monday morning after discovering “unusual activity” that prompted officials to cancel classes Tuesday and extend the cancellation to Wednesday. The Iowa Department of Education, the local offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security are working with district officials.
Officials say they don’t believe electronic devices belonging to students and staff were affected by the attack, which was limited to the district’s servers, Des Moines schools’ spokesperson Phil Roeder said.
The district remained offline Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution,” with student information, educational programming and many operational functions still not accessible, Roeder said.
“We are working as quickly as possible to remove all threats from our systems, make sure all servers and devices are safe and clean, and restore full functionality so students and staff may return to the classroom,” the district said in a tweet.
Related:Des Moines Public Schools cancels Tuesday classes after cybersecurity attack
Des Moines Public Schools joins a growing list of Iowa schools that have experienced cybersecurity attacks, including Glenwood Community School District, Cedar Rapids Community School District, the Linn-Mar Community School District and the Davenport Community School District.
In July 2019, Glenwood Community School District in Mills County paid $10,000 in ransom after hackers encrypted student data that included schedules, contact and demographic information, making it inaccessible to administrators.
While district officials say they know families are frustrated by the cancellations, returning students to class is not as simple as giving them a textbook and sitting them down in the classroom.
Student safety could be comprised by the cyberattack, said Josh Brown, Des Moines Education Association president in an interview.
The loss of the network and internet means staff cannot access student information, including emergency contacts and vital medical information, or even take attendance, Brown said.
Additionally, building security has been compromised.
Moreover, teaching has moved far beyond textbooks and printed handouts for the majority of middle and high school students, Brown said. Students typically submit most assignments online, and teachers use and store supplemental materials and lessons on the internet.  
“A lot of things that we take for granted that help keep people safe and in the old days that would have been potentially in filing cabinets,” Brown said, but “our world has moved so much to a technology-based society that internet is a part of the infrastructure that makes things work.”
Having the attack happen on Monday caused additional stress for teachers who were changing lesson plans over the weekend, said Roosevelt High School social studies teacher and instructional coach Amber Graeber.
“Nobody was able to print or make copies yesterday” with the network down, Graeber said.
People are also worried because the semester ends Friday and no one knows how that will be handled if the network remains offline, she said.
“Unfortunately for Des Moines, it is getting hit right at the end of the semester when we have grades due,” Brown said. “We’re trying to wrap up the semester, especially our high school students and staff.”
Tuesday and Wednesday will be considered snow days, said Smith during the news conference. Officials are working with the Iowa Department of Education to figure out a plan for the school calendar in case the closure goes beyond Wednesday.
Friday is also payday for thousand of Des Moines schools staff members.
“We have confirmed and reaffirmed and then confirmed again that all of our payroll systems are running and that we will have everybody paid on time,” Smith said during the news conference.
The turmoil has left parents scrambling to figure out how to care for kids they thought would be in class.
Angela Manning, who has three children who attend Des Moines School District schools, said Tuesday’s closure wasn’t a major inconvenience to her family because she works from home.
Initially, Manning said she was upset about the cancellations since her children, who are in elementary, middle and high school, spent two weeks off for winter break and have three more days off next week.
“I think they are not in school enough days, and it (the school year) will carry over into June,” Manning told the Des Moines Register in a message on social media.
But after reading comments from Des Moines school district teachers who explained all of the simple tasks and safety and security measures tied to internet, she said she understands why the closure occurred.
“Teacher badges aren’t working, attendance and health/family emergency records are not accessible, security cameras not working. It’s such a big mess,” she wrote.
Still, Manning says she questions why the school district didn’t have a plan in place to handle the cyberattack and wants to know what steps the school district will take to prevent another.
As the end of the semester approaches, Lori VanBuskirk, whose son attends Hoover High School, says she’s most concerned about him being able to turn in all of his final assignments and take exams.
“I am worried because he needs these last few days to get missing work in and graded,” VanBuskirk told the Register in a message over social media. “I hope he will have this chance.”
VanBuskirk also said there was a lack of communication with parents from the school district about the shutdown. She received the news through social media and then verified it on a news site.
“I would expect to get at least a text OR voice mail regarding something this extreme,” she wrote. “I suppose that the communications systems were affected as well.”
The YMCA of Greater Des Moines and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, which run after-school care programs out of multiple Des Moines Public schools, have subsequently halted their programs because of building closures.
Ruth Comer, vice president of marketing and communications for the metro’s YMCA, said John R. Grubb and Wellmark YMCA, the two facilities within the school district, have not seen a major uptick in attendance by children since the schools announced the closures.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, which hosts seven of its eight clubs at Des Moines public schools, is working on plans to offer all-day club programming at the Gregory & Suzie Glazer Burt Club at Drake University to accommodate club members if the school closures continue.
District families can receive updates using Snap! Connect.
Des Moines city government reporter Virginia Barreda contributed to this story. 
Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at facebook.com/svhernandezreporter.

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