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Two former Miami-Dade students are suing the School Board after they found their Social Security numbers and test scores online along with the personal information of hundreds of other students.
The plaintiffs did a basic online search of their names and discovered that the information was posted on the Miami-Dade school district’s website, according to the lawsuit.
“The carelessness with how the district manages students’ private information needs to be addressed,” lawyer Stephanie Langer said in a statement. The students are asking for both monetary damages and an “overhaul” of school district policies on the protection of student information.
The Miami-Dade school district called it an “isolated incident” and said that a forensic review was being conducted to determine where the information came from and whether it is authentic.
“The school district does not comment on threatened or pending litigation, however, Miami-Dade County Public Schools takes seriously any action that breaches student privacy and confidentiality,” said spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego. “Every reasonable method is employed to protect student records. As soon as this incident was brought to our attention, the web page was immediately taken down.”
In an interview in March, the plaintiffs told the Miami Herald that since discovering their personal information online, they both check their credit score and bank account at least once a day to make sure no one has stolen their identity.
“Honestly, I was upset. I thought that was a violation of privacy and I got worried,” said one of the plaintiffs. “I know the damage that one person, one mind and one computer can do.”
Langer said the issue is not just the Social Security numbers, but also the fact that the students’ standardized test scores were posted online. Many companies Google prospective employees, and having low test scores publicly available could negatively impact the plaintiffs’ job prospects, she said.
The law firm has not notified the other students whose information was posted online or published their names “for fear that we would further disseminate the information,” Langer said, adding that she hopes any settlement agreement would include the notification of all impacted students. The law firm has also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects student privacy.
Langer added that the list of students the plaintiffs found was discovered just by Googling two names, raising the possibility that the personal information of other former Miami-Dade students is also available online.
The lawsuit highlights the vulnerability of school districts to data breaches and cybersecurity threats. Large school districts like Miami-Dade handle the personal information, including Social Security numbers, of hundreds of thousands of current and former students, along with data on thousands of employees and parents. Last fall, Miami-Dade was targeted in an attempted hacking. In addition to hacks, experts say, school districts are also vulnerable to other, less high-tech data breaches because of the number of employees who have access to student information.