Cybersecurity Threat Updates

12-11-20 Letter from Superintendent Finley

Please note: All students and teachers can access HCS online platforms while off of the HCS network. Students in grades K-8 may do so while at home on either their Chromebooks or personal devices. However, students in grades 9-12 and teachers should not access HCS online platforms while on their HCS-issued devices. 

Dear HCS Families, 

I am writing to provide you with an update surrounding plans for next week as well as the remainder of the semester. 

Elementary students in Huntsville Virtual Academy (HVA) will resume online instruction on Monday, December 14. Our IT team is continuing to work diligently for secondary students to resume online instruction as quickly as possible. In order to make this possible, teachers will begin to receive new devices over the next several days. Plans will be communicated by each school. 

We are pleased to share students and teachers can now access online platforms including Clever, iNow, Schoology, SchoolsPLP, and Zoom. However, these platforms should not be accessed on the HCS network. We ask for all high school students and teachers to remain off HCS devices until they are replaced or re-issued. 

Speaking of devices, our team is working hard to provide devices to high school students and all teachers as quickly as possible. We aim to have new teacher devices distributed by early next week, and our plan is for high school students to be re-issued devices in January following the winter holidays. As soon as middle and junior high teachers receive new devices, we will immediately resume HVA online instruction for students in grades 6-8. 

As you are aware, we are navigating through not only our cybersecurity situation, but also the COVID-19 pandemic as well. As a precautionary measure prior to the winter holidays, our district will engage in remote learning on Monday, December 21 and Tuesday, December 22. Our Child Nutrition Program (CNP) team will serve curbside meals at all schools between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. both those days. 

Here are a couple of items worth noting for our high school students. As we have done in previous years, high schools will dismiss early on December 17 and 18. Schools will share plans for how this will work at their respective school campuses. As students across the district engage in remote learning on December 21 and 22, high school students will be provided with assignments with front-loaded materials for next semester. These may include instructional packets, writing assignments, and ACT prep for our older students. High schools will provide families with additional instructions. 

Finally, our district is aware of the new isolation and quarantine guidelines released today by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). While 14 days remains the recommended quarantine period, these new guidelines will apply to staff members only who meet the criteria for 10-day return versus the 14-day quarantine periods. At this time, students should continue to quarantine for 14 days. 

Thank you for your continued support as we work together to complete this first semester in a strong way, and thank you for supporting Huntsville City Schools. 

Very respectfully, 

Christie Finley
HCS Superintendent 


12-09-20 Letter from Superintendent Finley

Dear HCS Families, 

I am writing to provide you with an important update related to the district’s ongoing cybersecurity situation based on where we are with our process. 

Our IT Team, in conjunction with our outside cybersecurity experts, has confirmed the third-party systems hosting student information were not compromised as part of this threat. These systems include iNow and PowerSchool. 

Additionally, there is no evidence at this time to suggest that Chromebooks used by students in grades K-8 were impacted. 

Our main area of focus is for Windows devices, which are used by high school students and teachers. As a precautionary measure, we are making plans to collect all high school student devices and replace all teacher devices. We will be working to re-issue high school student devices as quickly as possible. These plans will be communicated by each school. 

While we are very pleased to share this update today, we remind our families that both our internal and external cybersecurity experts are working tirelessly to remedy the issue. I remind everyone that while we have made progress since last Monday when we first learned of the threat, this process is a marathon rather than a sprint and often takes months to complete to fidelity. 

We thank you for your continued support, and I will continue to keep you informed of any updates. 

Very respectfully, 

Christie Finley
HCS Superintendent 


12-07-20 Information Update

Huntsville City Schools is marking one week since the district learned of a cybersecurity threat. Traditional students returned to the buildings today for the first time since last Monday when the threat prompted an early dismissal. The district’s IT crew continued to work over the weekend to remedy the issue. Additionally, the district’s Operations team also worked over the weekend to assist teachers with making copies and delivering materials to schools. HCS continues to encourage students and employees to turn off and leave off district-issued devices, and HCS reminds everyone to log out of district platforms.

Update Archives
Week 1 (11-30-20 through 12-04-20)
12-04-20 Information Update
Letter from Superintendent Finley

Dear Huntsville City Schools families, 

I know that this has been a tough week, so I wanted to take the opportunity to reach out to all of you for an update. Before going any further, I would like to thank our district and school level teams who have been working diligently this week to prepare lessons and materials for our students.

As shared in our update yesterday, our team has developed plans for classes as we minimize the use of technology.  As a parent of a child in our school system, I acknowledge that our plan is not perfect.  Based on our technical constraints, we are unable to provide our regular virtual instruction.  In our response to the cyber security threat, our highest priority is remedying this as quickly as possible.  I know that you are anxious about resuming virtual instruction, and I can’t stress enough that, as a parent, I share this same sentiment.

I also understand that there are concerns in our community about the unknowns and curiosity surrounding our data and personal information.  Since learning of this, my team’s goal has been to resolve this incident while protecting you and your information.  This isn’t something that we are doing on our own.  From the outset of this process, we have worked with law enforcement and an outside cybersecurity team.  These individuals have been reinforcing our IT team and helping us remedy this situation.  As Superintendent, I believe we make our best decisions when we let internal and external experts guide us. That’s exactly what we are doing in this scenario.  This process will take some time, but we are working with the best.

In times like this, it is common to assume the worst.  I understand that feeling, but one of the best things we can do as a community is to minimize speculation.  To help with this, my team is committed to keeping you informed throughout this process, and we will continue to do so.  I am hopeful that we will have good news to share soon, but we will share information as soon as we can do so safely and responsibly.  It is critical not to share information prematurely in order to protect the integrity of the investigation and our team’s response.

I appreciate the outpouring of support our district and school teams have received throughout this process.  Our community and our District have repeatedly shown that we can overcome any challenge that we may face.  This year has been full of challenges, but we have remained resilient.  While we still have work to do, will get to the other side of this even stronger than before.

Very Respectfully,

Christie Finley
Superintendent

Magnet Application Update

The Magnet Application Window for all programs has been postponed. Future applications will resume in the Spring. If you have already applied for a program we will let you know as soon as possible if you will need to reapply. There is no additional information needed from current applicants or future applicants at this time. Additional information will be updated and provided as soon as possible.

2021-2022 Calendar Survey

Huntsville City Schools (HCS) is asking stakeholders to vote on two proposed calendars for next school year:  Both calendar proposals include the same scheduled holiday days for students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, both proposals include 180 student days and 187 teacher days as mandated by the ALSDE.  Read more about the changes and access the survey via the calendar survey article.

Teachers & Staff Preparing for Students on Monday

12-03-20 Information Update

Dear HCS Families,

As we continue to address the current technology situation in our district, our plan, at this time, is for students to resume instruction beginning Monday, December 7, 2020.  All HCS students on a traditional schedule (face-to-face) will return to campus on this date; however, please refer to each section below for information related to specific grade levels.

Elementary Schools:
  • Elementary school students on a traditional schedule (face-to-face) will return to campus and follow their normal daily schedule.  At this time, students will be provided assignments that will not require the use of their district-issued device.  This will be the process until normal technology operations resume.
  • Students in HVA will be able to pick up assignment packets no later than Monday, December 7.  These assignments will be due the following Monday, December 14.  Each school will communicate specific procedures and locations for pick-up and return of assignments. Prior to December 14, your school will inform you about the plan for the remainder of the fall semester.
  • Students in quarantine will receive assignment packets to complete at home until their return to campus.  Parents will be notified by the school as to when instructional packets may be picked up and returned.
Middle/Junior High School:
  • Middle and Junior High students on a traditional schedule (face-to-face) will return to campus and follow their normal daily schedule.  At this time, students will be provided assignments that will not require the use of their district-issued device.  This will be the process until normal technology operations resume.
  • Students in HVA will have assignment packets prepared for student pick up no later than Monday, December 7. Each school will communicate specific procedures and locations for pick-up and return of assignments.
  • Students in quarantine will receive assignment packets to complete at home until their return to campus.  Parents will be notified by the school as to when instructional packets may be picked up and returned.
High School:
  • All traditional (face-to-face) high school students will attend in person on Monday, December 7.  The staggered cohort schedule will resume on Tuesday, December 8.  Students in cohort A will attend school on campus on Tuesday, December 8, and Wednesday, December 9.  Students in cohort B will attend school on campus Thursday, December 10 and Friday, December 11.  Beginning Monday, December 14, students will resume attendance following the cohort schedule posted in the HCS Reset Plan. During this time, students will be provided assignments that will not require the use of their district-issued device.  This will be the process until normal technology operations resume.
  • Students in HVA will have assignment packets prepared for student pick up no later than Monday, December 7. Each school will communicate specific procedures and locations for pick-up and return of assignments.
  • Students in quarantine will receive assignment packets to complete at home until their return to campus.  Parents will be notified by the school as to when instructional packets may be picked up and returned.

Although the above items represent our current plan, these are subject to change – as has been the case throughout this semester.  Our intention is to follow the above plan if possible; however, we continue to be thankful for your patience and flexibility.


12-02-20 Information Update

Dear HCS Families, 

School and district leaders returned to campuses today to begin developing plans for students and teachers to resume instruction.  Teachers will begin returning to campuses tomorrow on Thursday, December 3, to prepare lesson plans and materials for students based on the current circumstances.

The District team is planning for students to resume instruction and return to campus as early as possible, next week. In the meantime, our CNP Department will continue to distribute curbside meals at all school campuses between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for the remainder of the week. 

We know that our community is curious about the nature and impact of this cybersecurity threat.  We can assure you that we will let you know as soon as we are able to do so responsibly.  Please ensure devices continue to be turned off and remain off, and please continue avoiding logging in to any HCS platforms. We will continue to provide you with frequent updates as we learn more about the situation. 


12-01-20 Information Update
  • Principals, assistant principals, and Operations staff who are notified by their supervisor will return on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Additionally, district personnel will return on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Teachers and all other HCS employees will return to campuses beginning Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 to prepare materials for students. Supervisors will contact employees regarding schedules.
  • HCS will serve curbside meals at all school campuses Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 through Friday, Dec. 4, 2020 from 11:00AM to 1:00PM.
  • Students will not return to campuses for the remainder of the week. Plans for next week will be shared in the coming days.
  • The district is working with local and federal authorities, and this is an active investigation.
  • As part of this investigation, HCS is continuing to work in conjunction with authorities to determine if any or what information may have been compromised. HCS is aware that some families at several campuses may have received phone calls regarding internet access for students. This does not appear to be connected to the cybersecurity threat. As a precautionary measure, these calls have been reported to law enforcement authorities as part of the investigation.
  • Families will not receive any district correspondence requesting their student’s name or personal information. HCS encourages families to be extremely cautious in sharing personal information with anyone.  Avoid opening any emails and do not click on any links from unfamiliar email accounts.  
  • HCS updates will continue to be shared via official district platforms including Schoolcast (call, text, email), district social media platforms, and the district website at huntsvillecityschools.org.
  • Ensure HCS devices remain off, and do not log on to any HCS platforms until further notice.
  • The HCS Board of Education work session originally scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 will be rescheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.
  • HCS administrators are working to resume classes as quickly as possible. We will keep you informed as we continue to consult with authorities and determine plans moving forward.

11-30-20 School Closure Notice

Dear stakeholders,

We thank you for your understanding surrounding the early dismissal today. Our district is continuing to work with both local and federal authorities to work to resolve this cybersecurity threat, which appears to be a ransomware attack.

To mitigate the spread of the cyberattack, we will proceed with closing schools and campuses tomorrow on Dec. 1, 2020. Students, faculty, and staff members will not report to buildings. For clarity, students and teachers will not engage in remote learning.

We continue to encourage all users to ensure HCS devices remain off and to avoid logging on any HCS platforms until further notice.

While we are working to resume classes as quickly as possible, we acknowledge this may require some additional time away from buildings. We will keep you informed as we continue to consult with authorities and determine a plan moving forward.

We ask for your support and flexibility during this time as we have only the best interests of students, families, and employees in mind.

Very respectfully,

Christie Finley
HCS Superintendent

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