‘Zoom bombing’ disrupts Hudson school board meeting

HUDSON—Viewers heard last week about the options school district voters would have for casting their absentee ballots, and how a last minute action prevented a materials shortage from causing an election crisis.

But Hudson City School District Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier had just announced those items Tuesday, June 2 at a video “public hearing” on the proposed Hudson City School District 2020-21 budget, when a “zoom bomb” computer hack led officials to shut the meeting down.

As of the Thursday morning, June 4 the district website suggested that Tuesday’s disruption had been caused by “one of the participants.” A make-up video “meeting” on the budget was scheduled for that evening but with less easy access.

All school district voting (for more see 3 school districts offer ‘drop-off’ voting) will take place by absentee ballot, with ballots due by 5 p.m. June 9. Unmarked ballots were required to be mailed by June 3 to every registered voter. The voters were initially instructed to fill it their ballots and mail them to the district clerk in a postage paid envelope sent with the ballot.

At the June 2 video conference, Dr. Suttmeier said that there are three ways to cast a ballot:

1. Put in mail, allowing three to five days for it to reach the clerk by the June 9 deadline

2. Hand it directly to the post master

3. Drop it in one of several lock boxes June 8 or June 9, provided by the district. Voters in the Hudson City School District can drop marked ballots off those two days at one of 5 lock boxes—

• The Junior/Senior High School on Harry Howard Avenue

• The former John L. Edwards School, State Street

• The fire station at 77 Washington Street, Hudson

• The AB Shaw Fire Station, Route 23, Claverack

• The Greenport Town Center.

But mailing has, by now, become a problematic option because blank ballots reached voters later than expected.

Hudson and at least one other district in the county had contracted with a private company to print and mail their absentee ballots. But on Friday, May 29, the company announced that it had run out of envelopes of the right size to mail the ballots to the voters.

Dr. Suttmeier and her team spent the weekend scrambling to find another company with envelopes. They found one, but the ballots were not mailed from Albany until Tuesday, June 2.

In Tuesday’s video public hearing, Dr. Suttmeier and Business Administrator Jesse Boehme were winding up preliminary remarks and questions from the online audience when what the district described as “inappropriate and unrelated material” suddenly appeared on the teleconference screen. Dr. Suttmeier immediately shut down the meeting.

Wednesday, June 3 Board President Carrie Otty said by phone that the public part of the meeting had not continued. “We were Zoom bombed,” she said.

Zoom meeting software is widely used for online gatherings of many kinds. But the software is also known for security breaches like the one that caused the termination of the Hudson meeting.

Dr. Suttmeier said by email after the incident, “Our IT director is investigating what occurred.”

We will issue a public statement once we obtain additional information.”

By Thursday, June 4 the district website reported that Tuesday’s meeting had been “disrupted by inappropriate actions of at least one of the public participants in attendance. The district does not condone the action of the participant(s), and we apologize for the inconvenience caused by this occurrence.” Later Dr. Suttmeier said by email, “A report has been filed with the local police department.”

On June 5, Ms. Otty added, “We weren’t the only group that was Zoom bombed.”

The district website said “we will be changing our protocols for connecting” to meetings.

The District ran a make-up meeting the evening of June 4. This time questions from the public had to be submitted in advance. The meeting did not use the interactive Zoom software. Instead it broadcast the hearing via a livestream. And though extensive testing of the livestream setup before the meeting showed no problems, some members of the public were not able to access it.

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