This article was published 12.12.23. It was updated 12.13.23 to include the message from Superintendent Michelle Reid, which FCPS posted to its site.
The one thing that can be said about Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is that it is consistent. When it engages in noncompliance, rather than engaging in immediate transparency and honesty, it crafts messages that lead the public to believe something else happened and that someone else is at fault.
Why am I mentioning this?
Evidently Superintendent Michelle Reid sent out a letter dated December 7, 2023, to parents throughout the division, letting them know that FCPS failed to secure their students' private information and explained it in the following manner:
"This matter occurred on or about October 19, 2023. During an in-person review of information related to the reviewer's own child, information relating to other students was unknowingly made accessible to a parent who retained an electronic copy of that information. Thereafter, the parent redacted the information related to other students and published the redacted information. Since learning of its publication on November 1, 2023, FCPS has worked to contain and secure the deletion of the information involved in this matter."
A few days later, on December 12, 2023, a message from Superintendent Michelle Reid appeared on FCPS' site. Although her name was signed to both the letter sent to parents and to the message posted to FCPS' site, the messaging and tone are vastly different. However, both the letter mailed to parents and the message posted to FCPS' site are similar in that both left out important information and were written in manners rendering them open to interpretation rather than in manners ensuring everyone reading them ends up on the same page regarding the facts. To my knowledge, the Dec 12 message wasn't distributed until close to 7 pm December 13, 2023, sandwiched in between a larger email titled "Winter Resources for Families".
What Did FCPS Fail to Mention?
The letter relates to me finding information for over 35,000 kids within my own kids records, as well as emails and other records proving FCPS 100% engages in some questionable actions. In addition to being the editor of this site, I'm a parent. As a parent, I invoked the right we all have to access our kids' educational records. What Superintendent Michelle Reid left out of her letter follows below.
First, let's start off with this:
I have not and will not ever publish private information about kids.
Now let's break down the statement itself.
"During an in-person review of information related to the reviewer's own child, information relating to other students was unknowingly made accessible to a parent who retained an electronic copy of that information."
What did FCPS leave out?
During an in-person review of information I was told was my kids', and which an FCPS paralegal and IT expert helped me access and advised me on copying, I copied records that were supposed to be my kids, and did not know I was copying information about 35,000+ other kids, as well as other records.
There were not 35,000+ independent records. Instead, there were a few dozen files of varying sizes, primarily with emails and attachments to emails within the files. In addition, there were discs with recordings. I was under the impression that the former were copies of old FERPA requests I'd made. I copied them since I'd lost records through the years. The latter was supposed to be recordings of meetings related to my kids.
"Thereafter, the parent redacted the information related to other students and published the redacted information."
What did FCPS leave out?
This reads as if I redacted and then published all the information related to other kids.
No. I published the following, some of which does contain redactions:
Emails showing that FCPS' legal counsel and leadership knew that the program it pushed on kids who have Dyslexia for years isn't actually intensive enough for kids who have Dyslexia, and that another FCPS counsel advised FCPS staff that they wanted to testify to a hearing officer that the program is actually intensive enough;
Emails showing that FCPS' Jane Strong added FCPS legal counsel John Cafferky to an email just to keep it "privileged" and that FCPS has taken other actions to prevent parents access to their own kids' records;
Emails showing that FCPS has made educational decisions related to kids based on whether their parent is vocal or working with someone who is vocal;
Emails showing FCPS retaliated and intentionally denies independent educational evaluations (IEEs) at public expense, even though it paid out evaluations to the same providers at the same rate years before;
Emails showing some of FCPS lawyer John Cafferky's due process hearing practices;
"Since learning of its publication on November 1, 2023, FCPS has worked to contain and secure the deletion of the information involved in this matter."
I'd love to know what this means myself. Maybe it means FCPS is trying to figure out a way to get back the emails in which it admits it spent years pushing a reading program on kids who have Dyslexia, even though it knows the program isn't intensive enough? Or, maybe it means that it is trying to figure out how to contain the emails indicating it retaliated against families and intentionally refused to pay independent educational evaluations (IEE) at public expense, even though its rates had been out of date for years?
What else did FCPS leave out?
- FCPS refused me in-person access to my kids' records for over a decade.
- FCPS lost a state complaint, which resulted in me finally being provided access to review my kids' records in person.
- FCPS had months to pull together the records. However, since FCPS adamantly insists that it maintains records in accordance with its own guidelines, pulling everything together should have been just a matter of putting everything in one room.
- FCPS has breached the privacy of my family repeatedly since 2018 and I've made FCPS aware of breaches since 2016. In addition, I've filed complaint after complaint with VDOE and SPPO in an effort to stop the noncompliance.
- Given I've been so vocal about FCPS' breaches—and given the fact that the breaches continue to happen—one might assume that FCPS would triple check everything in advance.
- When I did the review, a FCPS paralegal was with me the entire time and a FCPS IT tech came in, too. They helped me find recordings that FCPS had withheld from me for years, and which FCPS previously told VDOE that it had provided to me in an accessible format. The paralegal and IT tech confirmed that the recordings were not saved correctly, hence I finally had proof that FCPS provided false information to VDOE and that VDOE accepted what FCPS said, based on FCPS' testimony rather than VDOE actually doing an investigation.
- I copied old FERPA requests while looking through paper records, since I'd lost info through the years. I DID NOT know that I was copying records for over 35,000 kids. FCPS had repeatedly told me these records were my kids' records.
- I did see a paper record that had other kids' names. I copied it because the info for other kids was benign (ADDED 12.21.23: benign = it had a few names in the corner of a page, and no other information) and the majority related to my own kids. I was planning to say something after I finished everything. After years of being denied access, I just wanted to get through everything for my own kids.
- Later, I realized what happened and immediately filed complaints with Office for Civil Rights and Office of Inspector General at U.S. Department of Education because VDOE, FCPS, and SPPO had all failed to stop the years of breaches. At an OCR lawyer's suggestion, I filed with SPPO. In addition, I filed complaint with the Department of Justice and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- I did not contact FCPS immediately because I knew FCPS would try to hide it. Indeed, after I filed a complaint with VDOE, FCPS said the breach was a one-off. FCPS neglected to tell VDOE that after I found the records and after I filed a separate complaint with VDOE, FCPS emailed me an unredacted record for another student and then about two weeks later Robinson HS emailed thousands of report card records to one parent.
- I contacted a journalist I trust, with hope that she would do a comprehensive story that might gain the attention of leaders who would stop the noncompliance, and that more parents would consider speaking up to stop the noncompliance.
What of the Records?
You have to ask FCPS what records it provided and what it did with the records I eventually found.
I did not keep all the records for other kids. Hence, for those of you who have contacted me, I can't tell you what FCPS put in my kids' records that relate to your kid/s.
For families/kids/lawyers I know, I set aside any info I ran across, redacted the info specific to their children, contacted them to let them know what happened and asked if they wanted the records sent to them. If they said yes, I sent them the records that were redactly specifically to their kid.
I spent days without sleeping to redact these records so these families knew, because based on experience, I had no confidence that FCPS would admit what occurred and/or share exact records.
Parents can consider filing a FERPA-related complaint with VDOE and/or SPPO.
In addition, parents can consider contacting FCPS leadership:
Superintendent Michelle Reid: email@example.com
FCPS Counsel John Foster: firstname.lastname@example.org
I mention John Foster because he was all over emails from 2020, which I remembered last night, after a parent made me aware that FCPS is working with Experian as the place parents can call for more info.
This mention triggered a memory from 2020, when FCPS was hacked.
At the time, my info was included in what was hacked. I contacted Experian over and over and no one could tell me anything. I later started contacting FCPS leadership over and over. FCPS eventually provided me a generic list of info that might have been obtained by the hacker. I said no and wanted specific info.
FCPS' internal emails—something I also found within my kids' records—indicate that in addition to not having something in place to prevent hacking, FCPS didn't have anything solid in place on the reactive end. In addition, they chose to try to get away with providing generic info rather than providing the actual info that was hacked, and which individuals have a right to know about.
Their emails indicate, too, that if someone contacts them after weeks of not being provided answers, any request is considered a "demand".
Eventually FCPS provided me the info hacked.
I share all of this with hope that what I experienced with FCPS and Experian in 2020 might help you now.
FCPS has a history of providing misinformation.
Hence, when FCPS advised me of something, I've found it best to verify everything FCPS says. Too often, the truth relies elsewhere.