Names of Chesterfield County students, staff on COVID-19 contact-tracing list revealed to the public through FOIA request

Virginia News

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The names of approximately 575 students and 400 staff members at Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) who were listed on a COVID-19 contact-tracing spreadsheet were revealed recently to the public, Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said in a letter to the school division community on Monday.

According to the letter, the spreadsheet, which is required by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), had the names redacted. However, an “inadvertent software error” reportedly allowed at least one citizen to view the 975 names.

Daugthery said that CCPS began investigating the issue immediately after being made aware.

“The citizen who received the defective document said they immediately destroyed it after recognizing the defect and notified the school division,” Daugherty said in the letter to the CCPS community. “Other redacted public records provided in compliance with Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the state’s open records law, are being reviewed.”

CCPS Director of Government, Policy & Media Relations Shawn Smith said that the citizen who made the school division aware of the ability to access the names of COVID-positive students and staff beneath redacted sections of the spreadsheet acquired the document through a FOIA request.

8News was told that the document was sent to one person in response to the one FOIA request.

That individual was Grace Olsen, a CCPS parent, who said she submitted the request to find out the number of students who have been required to quarantine as a result of COVID-19 exposures in the school division.

“Like a lot of concerned parents, I’m just interested in what’s going on with COVID cases in the public schools,” Olsen said to 8News.

She referenced the Henrico County Public Schools division, which has posted quarantine numbers since its return to in-person instruction.

But when she reached out to CCPS, the school division sent her a list that, when copied into a spreadsheet, revealed the names of student and staff who had tested positive for COVID-19, which were not supposed to be visible.

“This is pretty concerning. This is a fairly big breach of security,” Olsen said. “There has to be a certain level of trust and transparency between between the school and parents. We’re trusting them with our children that they’re going to protect our children.”

According to the letter sent out on Monday, CCPS is in the process of reaching out the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Privacy Policy Office for additional guidance.

“It’s, frankly, pretty upsetting because I have no interest in knowing every staff member and every student,” Olsen said. “They also gave me every virtual-only student.”

Although details were not provided, Daugherty said that the school division has already taken steps to change its practice on how information is redacted moving forward, and will be in contact with affected families.

8News’ request for an interview with Daugherty was declined. Instead, Smith sent a prepared statement on the school system’s behalf.

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