Education

San Diego Unified trained top level officials on how to permanently purge emails from the server

Written by Michael Palomba

San Diego Unified has been involved in a number of controversial situations over the years. Most recently it was for implementing anti-racist training for teachers as well as banning due dates and making other nonsensical changes in the name of being anti-racist.

Now, however, the school district is engaged in a full-on scandal.

The details come from the Voice of San Diego and they are shocking.

According to their report, top-level district officials in the school district were trained on how to permanently delete sensitive emails from the district server, allegedly to subvert public records requests.

“It seemed like the reason we were being trained to do this is because records requests were coming in and it was becoming a problem. And so we needed to understand how – when we sent things that we didn’t want the average Joe to see – to get rid of those emails,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

“I saw it as a training on how to protect the district,” the official said.

If the district was not engaged in any wrongdoing, it would not need protection.

And it goes even deeper than that. The official also said that top district officials frequently used google docs to chat to avoid communicating via email. This is a strategy commonly used by students who want to communicate without leaving a paper trail.

Underhandedness aside, this behavior is also very likely illegal. Most documents are supposed to be retained for at least two years, but some less important documents can be deleted sooner, said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

Snyder said the permanent deletion of the emails is ‘a clean violation of the spirit of the law – if not the law itself.’

“It’s disturbing,” said Snyder. “The Public Records Act would cease to have much meaning if agencies could just delete all records upon creation.”

Mayor Todd Gloria, back when he was an Assemblyman, passed a law tightening email preservation regulations, but it was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

San Diego Unified isn’t even denying that the training happened, but they say it was for a different reason.

Users were “cautioned that deletion from the recovery folder would amount to permanent deletion from the system,” wrote Maureen Magee,

So what Ms. Magee is saying is that officials were taught what a permanent deletion looked like so that they could avoid doing it.

Sounds convincing.

Not only does her reasoning for the training sound untrue, but the official that VOSD spoke to also said that’s not how things went down.

The steps to permanently delete an email are more complex than simply deleting it from an inbox. Meaning it is unlikely a staff member would do it by accident.

The email first would need to be deleted from the inbox, then deleted from the trash folder, and finally would need to be purged from the recovery folder of the user’s email.

Under former Superintendent Cindy Marten’s leadership, the district planned to start deleting emails after 6 months. Backlash occurred and the district later said it would keep emails for a year. This didn’t satisfy VOSD, however, and they sued. The result was the district agreeing to keep emails for two years, and the court agreement doesn’t expire until 2023.

Cindy Marten was recently appointed by President Biden as Deputy Secretary of Education. Clearly, he’s picking only the best and most stand-up individuals to serve in his administration.

An attorney for VOSD confirmed in an email, “Individuals deleting messages permanently within [the two-year period] would not be in compliance with the law.”