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UPSD, Town and Country at Odds over RTK Order
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2024-04-16

            Administrators at the Upper Perkiomen School District requested 30 additional days to respond to a Right to Know Request from the Town and Country newspaper related to last month's network outage. However, the newspaper's request has been deemed denied by operation of law because the school erred in its response, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

            She said last week that the district's April 11 response to a request for information regarding its arrangement with a Chester County law firm, did not follow conditions of the Right to Know Law. According to Melewsky, the district's deadline to respond was April 9, five full business days after the request was emailed to the Right to Know Officer via an email address identified on its website.

            On April 1, the newspaper submitted a Right to Know Request asking for a copy of the district's engagement letter with Mullen Coughlin, LLC, authorized at a public meeting on March 28, along with any emails, and all other correspondence, between school board members or the superintendent and representatives from the Devon firm between March 12 and April 1 and any 2024 invoices from the agency to the school district and any payments made from the school district to it.

            Kristal Bitner, UPSD's open records officer, disputed the newspaper's assertion.  In an email message received April 11, she wrote that a 30-day notice of extension to provide the information presented by the district is timely. It states that Bitner was out of the office and did not receive the request until returning April 4, and there has not been a deemed denial. The district is actively working on the request and will provide a final response on or before May 13, according to her email.

            The timing issue can ultimately only be determined by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. According to Melewsky, the law shouldn't go on hold because the RTK officer is out of the office. She wrote in an email message received Monday that the law is a time-sensitive statute, and agencies need to operate within its time limits.

            The district's response appears to identify the need to redact certain information, in accordance with Section 706 of the Right to Know Law, as the reason for the extension. A line spelling that out is highlighted in silver on the attachment.

            Late last month, the board voted without discussion to ratify an engagement letter with the firm. However, administrators continued to avoid disclosing any details related to last month's incident. A district spokesperson declined to answer multiple questions regarding its relationship with the firm. After the workshop meeting, Superintendent Allyn Roche did not directly answer a question about the nature of the outage discovered on March 12.

            The firm is described on its website as "uniquely dedicated exclusively to representing organizations facing data privacy events, information security incidents, and the need to address these risks before a crisis hits."

            Its team claims to have handled "thousands of events and possess experience and talent in data breach response, regulatory investigation defense, pre-breach planning and compliance, and privacy litigation defense unmatched in the industry."

            Responding to a question about the possibility that the district was hacked, Roche said after the meeting that administrators continue to work through the process of resolving issues related to the outage. He added that he was happy that student laptops were returned to all 10th, 11th and 12th graders before spring break. The superintendent also stated that all classrooms have regained full internet access.

            In an email message received the day after the meeting, district spokesperson Alexis Jenofsky declined to address a series of questions related to the engagement letter. They included what services the firm is providing for the district, any financial arrangements between the entities and when the district first contacted the firm.

            "The district does not have any comment at this time," Jenofsky wrote in the message, received at 11:45 a.m. on March 29.


 

 

 

 

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