Coronavirus, ransomware prompt Somerset Hills to go virtual
Classes at Bernardsville Middle School and Bedwell Middle School in the Somerset Hills school district are temporarily all-virtual through at least Monday because of a ransomware attack, school officials said.
The attack encrypted “a very limited portion” of material on the district’s network, superintendent Gretchen Dempsey said in a letter sent to parents.
Dempsey did not say how much money was demanded to restore the files but wrote that “industry-leading forensic experts” were working on the problem, which happened sometime sometime after Sept. 3.
The school had started the year with a hybrid remote and in-person schedule meant to reduce the amount of children present at any one time amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
"This was not something we could have foreseen, and the timing here (as in Hartford, Connecticut) seems (at least to me) purposeful," Dempsey wrote.
The start of school in Hartford was postponed by a ransomware virus striking critical information systems. School officials said Tuesday that the system that communicates transportation routes to the district's school school bus company is among the systems affected.
Dempsey told arents in a separate letter about an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases "in our school community" that prompted Bernards High School to go all-remote through Sept. 21, after just one day of in-person instruction. Dempsey did not give a specific number of cases in her letter.
The Somerset Hills district includes Bernardsville and Peapack-Gladstone, which is served by the Bernards Township Health Department and the Somerset County Department of Health serving Far Hills and Bedminster. Dempsey said the district has been working with both departments on contact tracing since September 6.
During Thursday night's township committee meeting councilman Doug Stevinson mentioned an what he called an "outbreak" at Bernards High School but did not mention the number of students and staff that may be involved.
"Let's let this outbreak that's going on at the high school be a lesson to all of us that you got to remain vigilant or this thing will spread like wildfire. You've got to make good sound decisions, what you're doing. I don't know if it's a sports team or social events or what have you, but the numbers seem to be growing and certainly when one person is exposed to someone else there's a ripple effect," Stevinson said.
He said it's an example of how the community is "interconnected" and how "bad decisions can affect a lot of people," Stevinson said.
"There's a lot of people who put in a ton of time to try to get everything up and running to get the schools going and get the best for all the kids," the councilman said.
Gov. Phil Murphy during "Ask Governor Murphy" on WBGO/WHYY/WNYC Thursday night said he is watching the school COVID-19 cases, but said no cases have been transmitted in a school to the best of his knowledge. He said he expects that to change.
"In fairness it would be too early to know if there are any school transmissions. Some schools did open last week so its possible but you've got schools that are just opening for the most part this week," Murphy said, adding that he is not surprised by the cases.
"If you're expecting a regular, normal school year you haven't been paying attention," Murphy said.
Positive cases have been reported in students at East Brunswick Tech, Chatham High School, the Markham Place School in Little Silver and in the East Brunswick public school district. Rutgers University also confirmed four cases in student athletes and an athletic department staff member.
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