Edcouch-Elsa computer sales probe intensifies

 

EDCOUCH — The Edcouch-Elsa school district Wednesday addressed the auction of computers with sensitive information, anticipating action such as reprimanding and possibly terminating those involved in the sale.

Computers with sensitive information, including social security numbers, addresses, vaccination records and other personal data, were sold at the April 6 auction.

Interim Superintendent Richard Rivera began his investigation into the sale of these computers on July 15, stating he would terminate those he found “negligent.”

Rivera, who began his role as interim superintendent July 8, succeeded Ronaldo Cavazos, who served as superintendent during the time of the sale. The district was currently on break when Rivera, a former superintendent at EEISD, first started. This, he said, delayed his investigation until employees returned from vacation.

Also, Rivera said he was not previously aware of the incident and didn’t learn details until KRGV first reported it in early July, and from subsequent stories in The Monitor.

In a presentation Wednesday, he reported that “267 computers were inventoried, designated as surplus, processed and sent to the auction site” at the Ybarra Middle School Gym by the Technology Department.

At least 18 computers were taken to the auction site without removing their hard drives, he reported in his investigation.

He will also send letters to the parents of Truan Jr. High students that sensitive information wasn’t removed from hard drives. If other campuses are found with information breaches, further letters will be sent.

The district’s process has also changed, with the district no longer auctioning technology equipment, and having a company recycle these items instead.

A procedure was already in place, but some employees “bypassed” these measures.

Previously, the school board would approve items to be declared “surplus” before being auctioned off. The process also entails the technology department to pick up equipment and remove their hard drives before putting them up for auction. The department also notified all of the campuses of the procedures before the auction in April.

“The (school) board did the right thing,” he said, as they followed this process.

Some district employees did not follow the procedure despite notifications and the established measures in place.

One principal directed his staff to take computers directly to the auction site “without authorization.” Additionally, one transportation department staff member took one computer with sensitive information directly to the auction site.

The district is also looking into other departments or campuses which may not have followed procedures.

“The person will be terminated,” Rivera said, declining to name which school the principal worked at or the individual’s name.

“So what happened was that this procedure did not take place, because there were several people, several departments that took these computers directly to Ybarra (Middle School), where the site was,” Rivera said.

The guidelines and procedures for auctioning computers are posted in the Business Office Procurement and Procedures Manual, along with trainings given at the beginning of every year, according to the presentation.

The district will continue professional development, and for all staff to complete an additional online course on data security along with required yearly courses. Students will also receive lessons on the importance of data security, cyberbullying and internet safety.

Rivera said since this is a personnel issue, he did not want to disclose the names. Matters pertaining to personnel are typically discussed during executive session, which are closed to the public, during school board meetings.

During the day of the auction, a bidder informed a school district official about a laptop with a hard drive in it. The administrator called their supervisor, but was not given the “directive to stop the auction,” but to get the buyer’s information.

“It continued, even though staff had been informed,” Rivera said.

The district has also attempted to obtain the computers from the buyer who bought six computers with hard drives on them, but attempts have been unsuccessful, according to district officials.

RDA Technologies operations manager David Avila said he notified the district during the day of the auction, who bought six computers costing him over $2,400, as shown in receipts he kept.

After processing the computers, he did find sensitive information and contacted the district on May 24.

Following a few exchanges, Avila spoke with the technology director. However, the lack of transparency and speed in addressing the issue became a problem for Avila, he said in a previous interview.

Avila said in an email exchange between the district on May 27, that he felt that he couldn’t “rely on your professionalism” with regard to their handling of the process.

For Avila, the district’s handling had been problematic from the start, with letting computers go up for sale with hard drives in them, and not stopping the auction despite his warnings.

Avila kept a communication log, email exchanges between he and the district and the receipts of the computers he bought, which he presented as evidence. The buyer said that from April 6 until June 18, he had communicated with the district on several occasions, according to his correspondence log.

However, Avila said the former superintendent took no action or made contact as of June 18, despite trying to follow up on June 10, during a previous interview.

Cavazos, the former superintendent, did not respond to a request for comment as of press time Thursday.

He sent the six computers in his possession to the state Attorney General’s office on June 25, according to a receipt Avila kept.

Rivera said he wants to be “proactive” and continue searching for the other computers sold with “sensitive information.” They will try to “trace” who bought the computers and see if they do have “sensitive information” and meet with other buyers to check the items.

The district will take action through “reprimands, reassignments and possible letters of terminations” issued for those who are found to be at fault.

“Had it been done the way it was supposed to have been done, nothing would have happened. People just did not follow the procedures that should have been followed,” Rivera said.