N.C. Department of Public Instruction says knowledge of electronic eavesdropping limited to one department

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

Knowledge of electronic eavesdropping on a former employee’s text messages was limited to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s K-3 literacy office, NCDPI officials said Friday.

The eavesdropping played a critical role in Superintendent Mark Johnson’s decision to cancel a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the state’s K-3 reading assessment tool.

Johnson eventually selected Istation’s reading assessment tool over Amplify’s mClass. Amplify filed a protest with the N.C. Department of Information Technology. The matter still has not been resolved.

Johnson cited a “breach of confidentiality” by a member of an evaluation committee asked to recommend a firm to provide the state’s K-3 reading assessment as the reason for cancelling the controversial RFP.

That breach occurred, Johnson said, when the committee member telephoned former K-3 Literacy Director Carolyn Guthrie about the evaluation process.

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter reported for Policy Watch that the committee member who discussed the process with Guthrie is K-3 literacy consultant Abbey Whitford.

Parmenter also reported that Guthrie sent a text message to another retired DPI employee, Annie Evans, which included details about the call between Whitford and Guthrie.

Johnson learned about the “confidentiality breach” after a DPI employee viewed the text message exchange on Guthrie’s old desktop. Guthrie had connected her DPI-issued devices to her personal text messaging accounts. The desktop was supposed to be wiped clean after she left NCDPI.

The employee reportedly slipped a screenshot of the text message exchange between Guthrie and Evans under former Deputy Superintendent Pam Shue’s door.

Here’s how NCDPI described the situation:

The agency has completed its investigation into a former employee’s allegations that her personal text messages were accessed via a DPI-issued device.  The former employee admitted that she connected her DPI-issued devices to her personal text messaging accounts in violation of the state’s acceptable use and internet security policy.  The investigation concluded that after the former employee retired in October 2017, her former agency-issued desktop computer remained connected to her personal accounts and was transferred to her successor.  This individual was a social friend of the former employee and viewed the text messages as a source of entertainment and information on personal matters.  The individual shared the former employee’s text messages with at least one other career employee in the K-3 literacy division.

Upon that individual’s retirement, the desktop was transferred to the career K-3 literacy employee.  That employee continued to view the former employee’s personal text messages and admitted to providing a screenshot of a text message conversation to her supervisor in February 2019.  The supervisor informed DPI leadership that the screenshot had been slipped under her door by an unknown individual.  Shortly thereafter, the employee disconnected the desktop from the text messaging account.  DPI has examined each device that was assigned to the former employee and has determined that they are no longer connected to any personal email or messaging accounts.  The investigation concluded that knowledge of access to the personal account was limited to the K-3 literacy office.

Policy Watch could not reach NCDPI for comment late Friday.


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