Parents outraged after bus company email reveals students’ information

Rows of school buses

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Parents in Delaware County’s Springfield School District are livid after sensitive information was emailed to everyone in the district that contained the names and bus stop locations of all students the day before the first full day of classes.

Monday evening, Student Transportation of America, the bus company contracted by the district, sent out the 900-plus-page document that revealed in detail the students’ information.

In a statement released Tuesday, the school district said that it had met with an executive from STA, and that the mistake was made by a bus company employee “in earnest.”

“Once the employee realized the error was made, attempts were made to retract the email; unfortunately, the software did not allow for this error to be retracted. Obviously, this situation has been addressed with all involved, and measures have been put in place to prevent this from happening again,” the district’s statement reads.

However, Springfield parents interviewed Tuesday offered a slightly different version of events that they said led them to believe the email was not an accident.

“It started off with a voicemail. We got an automated voicemail from STA, and STA said, ‘We’re sending you an updated schedule, and you search for your child’s name.’ And they sounded like they meant to do it,” said parent Steve Skalish.

Because the district was doing half-days of school the week before, Skalish said, he thought that the update would reflect a return to a full-day schedule. He didn’t pay much attention to the email until his wife charged into his office and told him to take a look.

“Slowly, the realization hit us: They just sent out every kid’s name to everyone in the district. And now everyone knows where every kid [is] picked up and dropped off at,” Skalish said. “It seemed like they meant to do something and then probably realized that they made a big mistake right afterward.”

WHYY News reached out to Student Transportation of America, but a representative for the company did not offer a comment.

In its statement on social media, the Springfield district was apologetic about what it described as a “contractor error.”

“We realize that the safety of our children is paramount. We are pleased to report that all students who rode the bus this morning made it to our schools safely,” the statement reads.

Despite the apology, the release of the information left a bad taste in the mouth of many parents who have had issues with busing in the district before.

Jenn Devine is a parent of two children in the Springfield district. She first found out about what had happened on social media.

“I was furious, I couldn’t believe that somebody would do something so irresponsible. On top of giving out everybody’s information, the school routes themselves aren’t correct. So basically, from the start of everything, it’s been kind of a mess,” Devine said.

She is new to the district, but she said she had issues with it even in the summer. Devine was sent a paper regarding the bus for one of her children that omitted the drop-off spot. She didn’t receive any information for her other child.

Devine said she ended up driving one of her kids to school Tuesday, but in the future, she has less certainty about the reliability of the school’s transportation system.

“We don’t even know if our children are going to get to school or get back,” she said.

Devine and Skalish both said the actions of the district’s bus contractor raises major privacy concerns.

“Everybody knows where these little children are going to be standing, whether it be the afternoon, evening, even their actual school. They have their names, ages, grade school, everything they need to know, for them to be kidnapped, or worse,” Devine said.

Seeing the reaction from parents made him realize the layers to the situation, Skalish said. He works with sensitive data at his job, and his wife works in health care. If something like this were to happen at their workplaces, he said, someone would be in serious trouble.

But he acknowledged that it’s easy to drift to the worst case scenario. “It just seems so big, because we’re so protective of our children. As time goes on, hopefully, this doesn’t really have the impact we think,” Skalish said.

He said he and his wife have had to have discussions with their child regarding safety — just in case.

 

Ultimately, Skalish said he doesn’t blame the school district for the data release — though the decision to contract bus transportation out to a company is a debate that could be had.

Still, he thinks it’s the duty of the school district to assuage parents’ fears.

“I think going forward, if there’s something like this, how do you rebuild trust? It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of time. And even though I don’t blame the school district, I’m sure a lot of people are just because they’re going to be the face of this problem,” Skalish said.

WHYY News reached out to members of the Springfield School Board for comment, but they did not immediately respond.

Meanwhile, the reaction on social media is much as Skalish predicted: Parents have been skewering the district — and it was only the first full day of school.

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