“Security Threat Attempt” deactivates software at some New York schools

The online platform used in some New York public schools has been out of operation since last Saturday after a “security incident” that forced teachers to rely on more traditional ways of recording grades, tracking attendance, and contacting students and parents.

School officials were unable to provide a number of how many schools were affected by the outage, but several teachers said in interviews that it complicated their work.

“There have been very short outages from time to time in the past, so when it first happened, that’s exactly what I expected and it didn’t bother me,” said Jeremy Copeland, a history teacher at the School of the Future. Manhattan High School. “But now that it’s been almost a week, it’s really alarming.”

The problem arises when the city’s public school system – the largest in the United States, with about one million students – is already facing its third academic year, which is obscured by various disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Exact attendance numbers are especially important as officials consider offering students distance learning opportunities. Mayor Eric Adams, who previously avoided such a move, said on Thursday that “we must be honest” that “a significant number of children, for whatever reason”, do not go to school.

The Skedula platform for teachers, which stopped working last Saturday, is run by the Californian company Illuminate Education, which has contracts with individual schools. According to the announcement of the service interruption on the platform, the service remained unusable on Friday. The statement said the breach was caused by an “security threat attempt.”

The company also runs PupilPath, a counterpart service for students and parents that is used by some schools in New York. It has also been out of service since last Saturday.

He reported the outage earlier this week to The Daily News.

Scott Virkler, chief operating officer of Illuminate Education, said in a statement that “the company’s priority is to renew the service as soon as possible and do everything in our power to help users.” He declined to comment on the nature of the security threat, saying the investigation was continuing.

The company said late in an e-mail to New York users that it was in the process of rebuilding its systems, began testing their aspects on Thursday, and will continue to do so over the next few days.

According to the company’s website, more than 17 million students and 5,200 districts and schools across the country use its services. Without stating the number of schools that used Illuminate Education, the Department of Education said the company had been paid $ 6 million in the last fiscal year.

Under the terms of the school agreements, Illuminate Education must report its findings to the Department of Education in agreement with the city. A ministry spokeswoman said in a statement that “there is no confirmation yet that any information from our schools will be made available or taken over.”

A spokeswoman for the New York City Special Commissioner of Investigation, an independent agency overseeing city schools, said the office had not been contacted.

Skedula, also known as IO Classroom, can be used with other online tools that teachers rely on, including Google Classroom, in ways that make it easier to post assignments and track grades and attendance. Teachers also use the platform to take notes on students who have problems in the classroom and who may require the intervention of educational counselors.

The timing of the outage was a particular problem for many teachers, as the end of the first semester was fast approaching and final grades should be given. This is also the period when teachers usually check their grades and also the progress of students in the classroom.

Students who have the job they need are now trying to determine what their excellent assignments are, said Robyn Katz, who teaches ninth grade world history at Brooklyn High School for Public Services.

“This is throwing the key into things at such a terrible time,” Mrs. Katz said. “It’s all a lot harder for kids, adults, parents, everyone.”

Students at the Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences in Brooklyn are among those who are still nervous, said America Billy, an English teacher in 11th and 12th grades.

“I’m afraid I’ll add another level of distraction at this point,” she said.

Mrs. Billy has decided to use $ 90 of learning discretionary funds to purchase another type of software, Jupiter Ed, due to Skedula’s outage.

Creating a new classification book was “time consuming,” she said, and now money is not available for basic items such as books. She said she also feared that once the platform was up and running again, the marks she showed might not be accurate.

Sarah Casasnovas, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said teachers could still record attendance and grades in Automate the Schools and STARS Classroom, two systems that “work smoothly and have not been affected by the incident.”

Mr Copeland said he used the Skedula platform to help transition back to personal learning at the School of the Future and to help track virus outbreaks. He said the software allowed him to identify students who usually wear masks in the classroom through photos in Skedula. He said he also relied on the platform to create seat tables.

“When he calls me every week or every day that I’m positive in Covid and that they need to start looking for contacts,” he said, “I can pull out the seat table, its latest version, and forward it to my manager.”

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