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Park Hill schools closed Monday, Tuesday due to malware attack

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Posted at 7:10 AM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 16:38:15-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Park Hill School District was forced to cancel classes Monday due to a malware attack on the district.

Later Monday evening, the district announced classes would be canceled Tuesday, too, and the technology team would continue working through the night to ensure systems are stable before bringing students back.

Classes were canceled for both in-person and online students.

A malware attack happens when a virus attacks the technology systems the district uses to function.

Monday was supposed to have been the first day middle school and high school students went back to school in-person since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials could not comment on exactly what was targeted by the malware attack as an investigation is ongoing and now involves national experts, including the FBI. They also could not say whether student data was accessed but hope that the safety systems they have in place prevented that.

"We're so sorry," Dr. Jeanette Cowherd, superintendent, said. "It really is just a huge disappointment. But at the same time, we've got to be safe. We know one of the biggest areas we have to be safe is cyber."

A Facebook post explaining the incident was shared just before 7 a.m.

SCHOOL CANCELED DUE TO MALWARE ATTACK: We apologize for the late notice, but we must cancel school in Park Hill today...

Posted by Park Hill School District on Monday, March 22, 2021

The district said that the technology team worked through the night to try and mitigate the attack but did not get systems back up in time to have school Monday.

Officials said at an 11 a.m. press conference that the systems that were down could impact school safety, and that's why the decision was made to cancel classes.

Students could continue to use their laptops and school phones are still operational, but things like the website, emails and learning applications are running poorly.

The notice of the closure Monday came late enough that some students were already waiting at bus stops to attend class.

"We made the decision to go ahead and run all the buses, all the routes just in case there was a student out there," Cowherd said. "We brought them into school and contacted parents. We set up bus routes to get everyone back home, so we know everyone is back home safely."

Officials were extremely apologetic and thanked parents for being understanding. They said every student made it back home safely.

The issue came as an inconvenience but many parents tried be understanding.

"Give them grace, the poor people have been working nonstop," said Jessica Slover, whose 7th grader is still learning virtually. "We should have learned by now to be a little bit flexible as parents."

Another parent, Eric McMillian, said he would have appreciated more advance notice from the district.

"Maybe they could have considered sending an email as soon as they found out how serious the problem was," McMillian said. "Most of us parents know that from a certain time in the morning to a certain time in the afternoon someone that we trust is looking after our children, and not all employers are tolerant of interruptions, particularly without notice."

The district is looking into whether or not students will have to make up the missed days of school and whether staff will get paid for the days.

Extracurricular activities are not affected.