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PROBLEM SOLVERS INVESTIGATES: Mailers Addressed to Students Prompts Investigation

Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-20 00:16:37-05

The Oklahoma Department of Education is investigating after mailers were sent directly to elementary and middle school students across the state.

“What line of thinking led you to believe that sending a letter to little 5th and 6th graders across the state was a good idea?” said Titus Jackson, a Broken Arrow dad.

Jackson found two letters addressed to his 5th and 6th graders in the mail this week using their full first middle and last names.

“It felt like a complete breach of privacy. It's not uncommon like when you're in high school to get like a letter from a college or whatever. Okay, that's cool, but these are grade school kids. I get letters addressed to them using their full names that just, that just felt wrong,” Jackson said.

The letters are a recruiting mailer from Dove Public Charter Schools giving kids information about the schools' curriculum and a form to apply for admission.

It seems innocent enough but Jackson says it's not about the content inside the letter.

“Number one, it kind of makes me wonder how secure my data is as a parent both on the side of the state in terms of OSDE. How secure is that data? And how secure is it if some weird charter school out of nowhere is getting ahold of this information and just sending out a mass mailing?” Jackson said.

The letters were sent to students across the state prompting the Oklahoma Department of Education to investigate.

The Oklahoma Department of Education sent this statement:

“The Oklahoma State Department of Education launched an investigation with OMES (Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services) and Oklahoma Cybercommand as soon as alarming complaints surfaced Feb. 14 that Dove Public Charter Schools had unlawfully obtained and used student information. The protection of student information is absolutely critical. The OSDE immediately notified OMES to entirely disable any and all access by Dove and its employees to any student information issued a cease-and-desist demand letter to them and filed a lawsuit against dove and others for a restraining order. These are the first steps as this multi-agency state investigation is ongoing.”

As for Jackson, he's worried his children's information isn't safe.

“It tells me that I need to look more into what's happening in our state in terms of security for our data," jackson said. "I would like to know specifically how it is stored, I just want that information. how is it stored? What is stored? And then yeah, I need to know exactly what kind of measures are there for security sake.”

A representative for Dove Public Charter Schools sent us this statement:

Dove Schools and the Oklahoma State Department of Education plan to file an Agreed Temporary Restraining Order that prohibits Dove from using data it accessed recently through the Oklahoma State Student Information System. The agreement, which will be filed in District Court, stems from Dove’s use of student names and addresses in recruiting for its new virtual charter school.

The following statement is from Dr. Ibrahim Sel, superintendent, Dove Schools

Last week, the Oklahoma Information and Technology School, a new virtual charter school operated by Dove Schools, mailed recruitment flyers to fifth and sixth-grade students across the state. Dove obtained the names and addresses through Wave, an online database available through the Oklahoma State Department of Education. We realize that our having access to such lists – and our subsequent mailing to that list – upset many parents and teachers. We respect each family’s privacy and did not intend to cause alarm. For that, we are truly sorry. The information was not shared with anyone else and has been permanently deleted by the mailing company. It’s important to note there was no data breach; we did not hack into a system. It’s open to school officials statewide. In retrospect, the letters should have been addressed to the parents. We simply got careless. We appreciate the Oklahoma State Department of Education for working with us to file this Temporary Restraining Order. Likewise, we appreciate the understanding of parents, teachers, and administrators. We have learned a valuable lesson.

The following statement is from State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

The State Department of Education has filed a lawsuit in district court yesterday afternoon to put a restraining order on Dove Charter Schools and to also directed OMES and cyber-command to cut all access to student data for anyone that is an employee of the particular school that we are discussing. There are no student records on the State Department of Education website. Those were unlawfully obtained and a multi-state agency investigation began immediately once we learned of this. It's alarming and a very serious matter.

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