When Penny MacCormack began her job as Montclair Schools Superintendent on November 1, 2012, she had to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane. One year to the day later, she and the Montclair Board of Education met in an emergency session to deal with the aftermath of a different kind of storm—the breach of the assessments.
The Montclair School board voted unanimously to approve an investigation and hearings into the breach of 14 of the 60 interim assessments, that were leaked a week earlier and posted on a website. Attorney Mark Tabakin was selected to conduct the investigation, and the resolution gave him the authority to issue subpoenas to relevant parties to provide documents and appear before the board to testify on the breach. Dr. MacCormack, whose grim expression mirrored the gravity of the situation, did not make any statements or comments.
Board of Education President Robin Kulwin told reporters after the vote that the board took the leak seriously enough to authorize an investigation according to standard procedure. She did not want the board to be seen as adopting a “scattergun approach” to the matter.
The board was united in getting the investigation started as quickly as possible. Board member David Cummings said that he would have preferred an outside investigator without any connection to the board, but he recognized the need to get the investigation started sooner rather than later. Board member Norman Rosenblum noted that Tabakin is working for the “Board of Education, not the Administration, not anybody else.” He said he saw no reason to doubt the sincerity of Tabakin’s findings after all the legal counsel he had offered to the school board in the past. “You’re not here to have any other axe to grind other than to find the truth of what happened here,” he said to Tabakin, “whether this disbursement onto a website was partially accidental, whether it was a failure within our own system, or whether someone deliberately downloaded it and then posted online.”
Tabakin assured the board that he would conduct a fair investigation and impartial hearings to get to the truth of the matter, without any preconceived notions. “Where this goes, it goes,” he said. It’s going to be a very wide net.”
Tabakin also expressed confidence that evidence of the breach in the form of e-mails or downloads would be found, opining that anyone in possession of such evidence would not want to erase it and be subject to claims of obstruction of justice.
Though not a criminal attorney, Tabakin said he has access to former prosecutors and criminal lawyers who work for his firm, as well as outside contractors such as information technology forensic experts, who will help him with his probe.
“The full weight of my firm will be made available to this investigation,” he said. “There’s no possibility that this will be a one-man show.” Tabakin hopes to start as soon as Monday, November 4.
Kulwin has opined that the breach might be internal. She told reporters after the meeting that the tests were kept in a secure, password-protected computer portal, making it highly unlikely that the information was hacked by an outsider.