Huntsville City Schools is cancelling classes for the remainder of the week due to a ransomware threat.
The district cancelled classes both Monday and Tuesday after announcing “a potential cybersecurity threat.” It said that “students, families, and faculty and staff members should shut down their district-issued devices and ensure the devices remain off until further notice.”
The system also says no one should log in to any HCS platforms from either school or home.
Craig Williams, Huntsville City Schools Chief Communications Officer, said on Tuesday that the district is in the remediation phase of identifying and resolving the issues.
Some staff members will be returning to schools on Wednesday, Dec. 2. Classroom teachers will return to schools on Thursday, Dec. 3, and all students will be out of school for the remainder of the week.
Williams said students will hopefully be returning sometime next week.
Teachers will be putting together learning packets because the district is still trying not to use technology as much as possible.
"We hope to get students back into teaching and learning as quickly as possible, however, we want to give our staff members some time to be able to have them return to buildings, return in order to prepare some materials. Now, that will likely involve preparing some packets as we want to continue to avoid using technology for the time being as we work to rectify and remediate those issues," said Williams.
The district will be serving curbside meals Wednesday, Dec. 2 through Friday, Dec. 4 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at all school campuses.
Williams said that it appears to be a ransomware attack and that the system is working with local and federal authorities. He said they found out about the threat because the school district's IT help desk received a high volume of calls, more than normal for a Monday.
It’s unclear if anyone's information has been compromised.
"We want to do everything we can to make sure we're good stewards of their data, making sure we're good stewards of their information. We of course have a number of precautionary measures in place on the front end to work to catch these types of issues before they even ever occur, but unfortunately, as you all know, these cyber criminals, they're sophisticated. They know what they are doing," said Williams.
Tuesday's update from the district said "HCS is aware that some families at several campuses may have received phone calls regarding internet access for students. This does not appear to be connected to the cybersecurity threat. As a precautionary measure, these calls have been reported to law enforcement authorities as part of the investigation."
It goes on to say "Families will not receive any district correspondence requesting their student’s name or personal information. HCS encourages families to be extremely cautious in sharing personal information with anyone. Avoid opening any emails and do not click on any links from unfamiliar email accounts."
"We recognize like everything else in 2020, it has certainly been unusual for sure. We are seeing a lot of firsts. Whether it's COVID, whether it's cyber security attacks, all of this is navigating uncharted territory, so first off, we thank them for their flexibility and understanding with us in that regard. Second off, we ask for their continued patience and support," said Williams.