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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 11, 2010

For school grant survey
Thousands of e-mail addresses accidentally sent to parents

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Parents across the school district were startled last month to receive an e-mail listing the address of thousands of other Guilderland parents.

The district received a $101,410 grant to help it prepare for emergencies and crises, which requires it to survey parents to understand their perceptions of the district’s existing polices and practices. The e-mail was to alert parents of this and assured, “All survey responses will remain anonymous.”

“We’re required to have an external evaluator,” said Superintendent John McGuire. Guilderland is using the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which sent the e-mail, he said, inadvertently forgetting to hit “blind,” causing all the e-mail addresses to be sent out.

The district has “a very small number of people without access to e-mail,” said McGuire, and they received the notice in printed form, but everyone else received the e-mail, which he estimated went out to about three thousand families. The district has about 5,300 students.

The same day that the error was discovered, on Feb. 26, the district sent out another e-mail, stating, “District officials immediately took steps to have the survey retracted, but in some instances it had already been received and opened and as such, could not be retracted.”

McGuire said last week that another error had occurred so that the e-mails were not retracted.

“I do apologize,” he said.

The district did not purposefully violate the confidentiality of e-mail addresses, said McGuire. “We try to keep those things close.”

The survey is going forward, as required by the grant.

The 2009 Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Grant was awarded by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

Robert Collins, the district’s Health and Safety officer, had applied for the grant three times before receiving it. Guilderland is one of seven school districts in New York State and one of 108 in the country to get the grant. Altogether, over $26 million was awarded as part of the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools program.

Neil Sanders, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, told The Enterprise earlier that the grant money would be used for four different aspects of improving emergency response:

— Prevention and mitigation, or limiting exposure to risk;

— Preparedness;

— Response; and

— Recovery, or, said Sanders, “what you do after.”

The district will coordinate with outside agencies, he said, including law enforcement, public safety, public health, mental health, and local government agencies.

Once plans are in place, the district will run drills and exercises to deal with disasters.

The disasters, Sanders said, could be natural, such as flooding or high winds, or could be, for example, from a chemical spill at the Northeastern Industrial Park that neighbors the high school. The emergency could also be medical, such as the outbreak of influenza.

“It’s better to be prepared than not,” concluded Sanders.

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