Jefferson City Public Schools' Board of Education decided last Friday to fire a district technology coordinator who copied and transferred files that included students' personal information from a work account to a personal email account.
JCPS did not have a comment Monday, but deferred to the findings of fact and conclusions of law provided in the board's decision issued Friday on technology coordinator Tammy Ferry.
Ferry copied and transferred thousands of files in January from her work account to her personal Google account without authorization, and the more than 19,800 files contained personally identifiable information that impacted 1,304 students.
The district notified families and the public in May of the file transfer — though Ferry was not named at the time as involved — and said there was no evidence of identity theft as a result.
The files included students' Individual Education Programs, physical therapy evaluations, physical therapy progress notes and other records, which included a combination of one or more of students' names, addresses, medical information and/or Missouri Student Identification System numbers.
Ferry copied and transferred her work account files because she wanted to be sure she would have them available for the upcoming trial in her employment discrimination lawsuit against the district, its superintendent and her immediate supervisor — as well as to have a record of her work for future employment opportunities.
Ferry is suing JCPS, Superintendent Larry Linthacum and her supervisor Joe Martin — JCPS director of technology — in Cole County Court, alleging retaliation, sex discrimination and a hostile work environment. The trial was originally scheduled for February and is currently scheduled to begin Nov. 12.
Several former district employees testified as witnesses for Ferry at a July 10 hearing on the district's recommendation to fire her that they too had transferred work files to their personal email accounts, but that they would not have had any confidential student data in the transferred files or that they would have made sure not to transfer files with such information.
The school board found that Ferry had willfully and persistently violated several board policies on staff conduct, technology usage and data governance and security; that Ferry's transfer of the data to her own account was a disclosure prohibited under federal privacy law regarding students; and that she did not have a "legitimate educational interest when she transferred the data to her personal email account."
The board also negated Ferry's defense that her actions were at the direction of her attorneys, as the board "could not find, nor was it directed to, any case finding that (the 'advice of counsel' defense) has ever been used in administrative proceedings or in employment termination hearings," according to its written decision to fire Ferry.
The school board did not consider or address additional allegations against Ferry that she had violated administrative directives during the investigation into the file transfer to return district computers in her possession, not talk to other district employees and not be on district property.
The termination of Ferry's employment was effective immediately. Her annual salary was $60,959, according to her 2018-19 contract.
Ferry told the News Tribune on Monday afternoon that she and her attorneys would appeal the board's decision.
Her understanding was that the appeal would be in the county circuit court and that a judge would rule either to let the termination stand or to overturn it.
"You can see the reason that (the board) terminated me was because of me transferring my work files, and I guess the only thing I would add to that is I did nothing more than every other employee had the ability to do and that many, many employees do routinely, and that no student data was ever compromised or breached, no disclosure at all," Ferry said. "... I have not violated the law. I have not violated board policy or FERPA in any way, and that's why we're appealing."
This article was updated at 4:30 p.m. July 29, 2019, to add comments from Tammy Ferry.