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UPDATE: Neenah schools resume classes Thursday after internet outage

Neenah Joint School District office building
Neenah Joint School District office building
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 5:33 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 3:00 PM CST
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - Students in the Neenah Joint School District will be going back to school Thursday. The school district announced Wednesday afternoon it has restored wireless internet, phone systems, and teachers’ access to their computer files in the schools.

The school district canceled classes the past two days while it recovered from what it described as an IT “security event” which is being investigated by the FBI and local authorities.

The school district is keeping Friday, January 14, as a half-day of school as previously scheduled (no school for 4K students), and Monday, January 17, will remain a day off in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

ORIGINAL REPORT

NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - The Neenah Joint School District canceled classes again on Wednesday as it continues its recovery from an IT “security event” that caused an outage of its computer systems and the cancellation of classes Tuesday.

We first told you about the investigation Monday night. Tuesday the district was still figuring out a timeline for moving forward. Superintendent Mary Pfeiffer said in-person classes will probably resume on Thursday, according to a letter to parents Tuesday evening.

School officials had a meeting with federal and local law enforcement Tuesday afternoon to discuss what happens next. It’s been just over 24 hours since the Neenah school district found itself in what it calls an “IT security situation” that knocked out its internet and computer software, phones and email, leading the district to cancel classes.

“Those two things, until they’re back up, we’re going to be pretty challenged to have school,” Pfeiffer said.

The letter to parents says they believe a working phone system, wireless internet and staff access to their computer files “need to be in place to “safely and appropriately resume school.”

“We are confident that all three of those factors will be completed on Wednesday so that school may resume on Thursday. Our technology staff has been working around the clock since this incident was discovered to restore our systems,” Pfeiffer wrote (read the complete letter at the end of this article).

The school district felt confident in its cybersecurity systems.

“I feel that we’ve done some good things, but it’s become apparent that we need to continue working diligently on all ends trying to maintain a safe environment,” said Michael Patton, director of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Cybersecurity Center, which specializes in digital security breaches.

Patton says outages like this can happen to anyone.

“It’s just a matter of time, right? It’s nothing that Neenah should be embarrassed about or is unusual. Nobody is too big or too small, and we are all being monitored to see if we can be exploited,” he said.

And he said in no way should the school be blamed.

“Just as you wouldn’t blame someone if they got mugged or carjacked, we shouldn’t be blaming anyone at the Neenah School District for what has happened.”

Tuesday the district was working with the FBI and local law enforcement to determine how the outage happened. Pfeiffer says there’s still no reason to believe personal or confidential information was compromised but families will be contacted if the investigation finds otherwise.

”The information that we are receiving is truly by the hour, sometimes by the minute,” Pfeiffer said.

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Neenah Joint School District letter to parents on January 11, 2022:

NJSD Families,

All Neenah Joint School District schools will be closed on Wednesday, January 12 due to continued restoration of services following the technical security event that took place early on Monday morning. School will likely resume in person on Thursday, January 13.

The decision to cancel is based on three factors that we believe need to be in place in order to safely and appropriately resume school: A working phone system, a working wireless system and staff access to their digital files. We are confident that all three of those factors will be completed on Wednesday so that school may resume on Thursday. Our technology staff has been working around the clock since this incident was discovered to restore our systems.

As stated in Monday’s message, the restoration of our services is a deliberate process and we will not sacrifice our safety and security for speed. Our digital forensics investigation with state and local law enforcement is continuing and we are pleased to report that there is still no evidence that any personal information has been compromised. We greatly appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this unfortunate situation.

Dr. Mary Pfeiffer

Neenah Joint School District Superintendent

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