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Jefferson City Public Schools hearing to consider dismissal of employee

Jefferson City Public Schools hearing to consider dismissal of employee

July 9th, 2019 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

In this July 30, 2018 photo, registrants fill out personal information on laptop computers so students can be eligible for various school activities in Jefferson City Public Schools.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

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The Jefferson City Public Schools Board of Education will have a public hearing Wednesday afternoon on whether to fire JCPS employee Tammy Ferry, who the district alleges inappropriately transferred student information to a personal email account.

Ferry also has an active employment discrimination lawsuit filed against JCPS. Documents filed with the Cole County Circuit Court show Ferry allegedly communicated that she exported some data in case it would be needed for the trial in her lawsuit.

JCPS notified families and the public in May that it had been alerted in February that an employee with authorized access to district files containing student information had transferred data to a personal Gmail account.

Documents, including some that described the nature of the allegations against Ferry by JCPS, were available in Cole County Circuit Court because Ferry filed a petition June 20 for the court to mandate the issuance of subpoenas in her preparation for Wednesday's hearing.

On June 11, JCPS issued a "Statement of Charges" against Ferry that alleged she "willfully or persistently violated" three different school board policies on staff conduct, technology usage, and data governance and security.

JCPS' Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf signed off on the statement, which ended by stating the charges were being referred to the school board.

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Specifically, the district alleged Ferry, without authorization, "began copying and exporting district files from her district-issued email account to her personal email account" on or about Jan. 28 — a total of more than 19,000 files, more than 3,000 of which contained personally-identifiable student information.

JCPS said in May the data included a combination of one or more of students' names, addresses, medical information and/or Missouri Student Identification System numbers.

On or about Feb. 1, Ferry had been directed to turn in her district-issued technology devices and not contact district staff to discuss the investigation into her actions, but Ferry instead provided the devices to her attorneys and later contacted at least two staff members via text message, according to the Statement of Charges.

"At no point was Ms. Ferry authorized by anyone at the district to provide the district's devices, or the data on those devices, to third parties," according to the Statement of Charges.

Ferry's attorney Roger G. Brown wrote to Shelby Scarbrough, JCPS' director of human resources, on Feb. 5 that "because of the current lawsuit set to begin within less than 3 weeks and because of the potential existence of critical evidence for that trial, as well as other claims, it is imperative that we preserve this evidence."

The trial in Ferry's lawsuit against the district had been scheduled for the last week of February into the first week of March, but the trial was rescheduled March 8 to take place this November — because Brown was to be out of the country during the original dates, according to court documents.

Ferry — who has worked for JCPS for 11 years and is an instructional technology coordinator — filed her lawsuit in Cole County court in April 2017 against the school district, Superintendent Larry Linthacum and Joe Martin, Ferry's supervisor and director technology. She alleged retaliation, sex discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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She alleged she was singled out because she had testified in an earlier employment discrimination lawsuit filed by former Jefferson City High School teacher Karen Ray.

In May 2016, Ray's lawsuit was tried and a jury decided in her favor.

Ferry filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in October 2016.

"My office has begun inventorying of the property turned over by (Ferry). We will inventory, download and hard copy all information on her computer and will copy any other documents to turn over. Once we are satisfied evidence is secured, my office will contact you with regard to retrieving these items," Brown wrote to Scarbrough on Feb. 5.

On Feb. 7, Ferry allegedly texted fellow staff: "I wanted to make contact with a few people that I work with and let you know that I won't be at work for a while."

The message, forwarded by a recipient, stated Ferry figured she was being investigated "likely because of me exporting my Drive data to my personal account and the conformation emails in my jc schools account of that export. I exported my Drive data so I could have a record of my work history in case I needed it during my upcoming trial. I have shared NO student data with anyone, not even my attorneys, and have very few files with any student information anyway.

"Even though I was forbidden by Scarbrough to make contact with any JCPS employee, my attorneys assure me that an employer cannot prohibit me from speaking to anyone, work or otherwise. My reason for contacting you is simply to let you know where I am and why," according to the message.

On Feb. 8, Ferry's attorneys allowed the district to retrieve the devices Ferry had in her possession — four Apple laptops, one Dell Chrome Book, one Dell laptop and two Apple iPads, according to a hearing brief, shared by JCPS, of evidence to be presented at Wednesday's hearing by the attorney representing the district.

The district turned the eight devices over to Guidepoint, "a computer forensics firm, which conducted a forensic examination of the devices to determine if the devices included any evidence to Ms. Ferry's release of district data to her personal Google account."

Guidepoint determined "seven devices had data erased, which made it difficult to find any evidence related to the exfiltration of data," according to the hearing brief.

The computer forensics firm instead used login, drive and user account activity logs for Ferry's account to determine files had been transferred to Ferry's personal email address.

Guidepoint then provided copies of the exported files to "a third party technology vendor," Ankura, to mine the data and determine the content of the files.

In addition to being placed on administrative leave, Ferry was also restricted by JCPS from being on school property, as the Statement of Charges alleged Ferry attended school events on school property May 10 and May 20 "without prior approval from administration."

The public hearing on evidence for and against Ferry's termination is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the atrium of the Miller Performing Arts Center, at 501 Madison St.

The Board of Education will make the final determination whether to fire Ferry, and the board will have the option Wednesday to vote to enter into closed session to fire Ferry.

"The district does not feel it is appropriate to discuss this personnel matter publicly ahead of the hearing on Wednesday," JCPS' director of communication Ryan Burns said Monday.

The trial in Ferry's employment discrimination lawsuit against JCPS is scheduled to start Nov. 12, according to online court records.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem ordered July 1 that Ferry has a right to the issuance of a subpoena "for testimony from and production of documents" in the possession of Duane Martin, an attorney for JCPS' Board of Education, with a response by Martin to be made on or before today.

Beetem ordered, however, that the subpoena's inquiry and testimony be limited to events at a March 15 meeting between Martin, Ferry and her attorney Dennis Egan, and be subject to limitations in light of attorney work product and attorney client privileges.