MONTCLAIR - Montclair parents and community members want answers about a costly investigation they believe never should have happened.
In October 2013, days before Montclair students were supposed to take controversial assessment tests, 14 of the tests appeared on a now-defunct website, GoBookee. School officials said it was a deliberate leak and hired an international security firm to find out who was responsible. They also compiled a list of 27 suspects they wanted investigated. These suspects were by and large considered to be critics of some of the board’s policies.
"Nobody went online in the middle of the night and hacked these assessments,” says Latifah Jannah, longtime resident of Montclair with grandchildren in the school system. Jannah was one of the people on the list. Community members say the hiring of the security firm was an attempt to silence critics in the name of an investigation.
The investigation eventually turned up nothing, which came as no surprise to those named as suspects. Documents show at least some Montclair school officials believed all along there might be nothing to investigate. The tests had been stored, unprotected, on the district's web servers, where Montclair police said they were "easily accessible to web crawlers," or software that grabs unprotected files.
The head of the IT department warned the school board there probably was no leak; so did district Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer.
"It is possible ... no one ever hit 'send' or otherwise deliberately uploaded (the assessments)," he wrote. "But rather that GoBookee itself found and 'stole' (them)." These early indications of the actual cause of the tests ending up online convinced those on the suspect list that the investigation was really about nothing more than intimidation.
"These assessments ended up however they ended up online," said Michelle Fine, one of the parents on the list,” and it became an opportunity to launch an attack on critics."
Montclair school officials refused to be interviewed. In a written statement, the interim superintendent says, "this controversy deflects from the work this Board of Education and its administration needs to focus on, that being the education of the children of Montclair," adding, "although I was not Superintendent in 2013, it appears it was a difficult time."
Kane In Your Corner attempted to get answers from Fleischer, who was in his current position in 2013. He refused to answer any questions, and referred to the superintendent's statement.
Since 2013, not only has a new superintendent taken over, almost all the school board members have been replaced. This makes it difficult to hold anyone accountable. Still, the parents and community members who wound up on the list of suspects say, at the very least, they deserve a better explanation as to why it happened, and a promise that it won't happen again.