This week, Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease told the Warren Elementary School community that former principal Andreas Lehner had continued access to confidential student information after he retired – an allegation he denies.
“I have plenty of direct evidence of access to digital records [on] PowerSchool by nonemployees,” Scheffert Nease told the Warren School Board at their meeting on Tuesday, November 3, referencing the educational database but never once saying Lehner’s name.
As a licensed superintendent, Scheffert Nease said she is required to report that evidence to the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE), and on September 16 she wrote a letter to AOE secretary Rebecca Holcombe.
In her letter, Scheffert Nease said that after Warren Elementary School’s former administrative assistant Laurie Jones’ contract was not renewed this past summer, she hired an IT employee to remove all of the Warren Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) information Jones had stored on her school computer and put them on a flash drive.
“We need to make the administrative office and that computer an appropriate confidential space,” Scheffert Nease wrote.
In updating the computer, “much to my surprise, we learned that the retired school principal from three years ago has (now had because we disabled it) a Mobile Me App that allowed him full access to all school email and student information in PowerSchool, documents on the hard drive that were shared with him and basically full remote access,” Scheffert Nease wrote, speaking indirectly of Lehner, who retired as Warren Elementary School’s principal in 2012.
“I have no way of determining if serious violations of student and staff information occurred,” Scheffert Nease wrote, “because my technology department would need [Lehner’s] password to determine what was accessed and how long ago.”
On Wednesday, November 4, The Valley Reporter reached out to Lehner to ask him about Scheffert Nease’s allegation. “Well that’s not true,” he said. “I don’t even know what a Mobile Me is.”
“If she had any concerns,” Lehner said, speaking of Scheffert Nease, “she never brought them to my attention,” he said. “She never asked me about it. Why didn’t someone call me?”
In her letter, Scheffert Nease said, “We have struggled with [Lehner’s] access to information during the administration of the last two principals, as he was observed by both of them in the office on [Jones’] computer when each of them returned unexpectedly to the building.
To this, Lehner said that he was helping Jones to update the directory he helped to create during his time as principal, which does not contain confidential information. The way Scheffert Nease brought up his use of Jones’ computer “certainly sounds sinister,” Lehner said, “but it’s out of context. It’s not the whole truth.”
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Scheffert Nease shared Holcombe’s response to her letter, which was dated October 28.
In her letter, Holcombe wrote that the possibility that someone no longer employed by the school had full access to student records is “troubling,” she said. “A records breach implicating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may have already occurred,” she said.
In closing, Holcombe requested that Scheffert Nease update her on the status of the issue and what steps Warren Elementary School is taking “to prevent any similar future occurrences,” by December 1, 2015.