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Danbury Schools Ask City Council for Help After Ransomware Attack

Danbury School District in Connecticut requested educational reserve funds from its local city council to cover expenses tied to a ransomware attack, including setting up a secure network and backing up data off site.

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(TNS) — The Danbury school district's requests for funding to fill a gap in monies for previously unbudgeted special education costs and cybersecurity expenses has received the City Council's backing.

The two requests add up to a little more than $600,000. The council voted unanimously on Tuesday to support funding both measures.

District officials became aware that the school district's computer network had been compromised in a ransomware attack and servers became encrypted on July 18, 2023, according to Danbury Public Schools Chief Financial Officer John Spang.

In a memo to the City Council, Spang wrote that district officials immediately notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Danbury Police Department and the school district's cyber insurance provider.

"No ransom was paid and a secure network was created with data that had been backed-up off site," Spang wrote. "Expenses, however, in the amount of $202,274 were incurred as a consequence."

Spang explained those costs included expenses to improve the district's network security and to provide credit monitoring for individuals whose personal information was compromised as a result of the attack. District officials requested the use of educational reserve funds to cover the expense.

Spang reiterated during ad hoc committee discussions in January that no ransom was paid as a result of the attack. Spang also explained that the district's cyber insurance policy came with a $100,000 deductible, and it excluded coverage for "a number of the things we needed."

"It excluded hardware. It excluded software," Spang said.

The district's information technology department has since taken steps to strengthen the security of its servers and information, officials said.

While the security breach was discovered last July, security experts the school district contracted with determined the breach likely began in September 2022 — when staff were still working remotely.

"We didn't realize something happened then," Spang said.

Meanwhile, the school district incurred an additional $400,000 in previously unbudgeted special education costs, including $254,000 in tuition expenses for two students in specialized out-of-district placements. Another $140,000 of that cost is to cover transportation expenses for those students. The remaining $16,000 covers supplies, materials and other costs, according to officials.

Costs increased because of a change in Connecticut state law to continue providing education for students with special needs who turn 22 years old during the course of the school year. The law affected four students this year, officials explained.

Officials explained that under Connecticut's previous law school districts like Danbury were not required to continue providing educational services to those students once they turn 22. So if the birthday of a student receiving specialized services occurred during the school year, it meant those services would be discontinued at that time. Under the new law, districts are now required to continue to provide services to those students through at least the end of the school year.

Finance Director Dan Garrick explained that both requests would be funded through the school district's committed fund balance.

The expenses come as a council ad hoc committee continued its discussions around a separate request to use $3 million in school department reserve funds to cover a shortfall in the schools' operating budget for the current school year.

©2024 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.