DA: No charges to be filed against Snook

MIDDLEBURG – District Attorney Mike Piecuch has released the following statement regarding investigation of a breach of the email system at the Midd-West School District.

“My office received a report in early April 2014 regarding an email breach at the Midd-West School District by its acting superintendent, Daphne Snook,” Piecuch. “The report came from School Board President Victor Abate on behalf of the board, and I immediately referred that report to the Middleburg Police Department for investigation. I compliment the prompt reporting of the matter by the school board and the expeditious investigation by the police department.”

That investigation in now completed. After reviewing the results of the investigation and the relevant criminal charges, Piecuch concluded that there is insufficient evidence to warrant filing criminal charges.

The decision was based on a report of a breach of the school district’s email system by its acting superintendent. The decision by the Middleburg Police department has determined that for the months Snook pervasively monitored email communications amongst other users of the district email system, including other administrators, teachers and school board members.

The district’s policy on acceptable computer network use and Internet safety provides that “users may not read, execute, modify or delete any file belonging to someone else without express permission from the owner, even if the file is unprotected.” The term “users” is defined as “any one person who may have access to the Midd-West School District network. This may include, but is not limited to, administrators, guests, school board members, students, support staff, and teachers.”

The policy also provides that “users have no privacy expectation in their email messages. The district may intercept or access stored communication at any time for any reason.” Thus, the policy places no limits on the scope or type of email monitoring and does not require any reporting when emails are intercepted or accessed. The policy does not define who is authorized to intercept or access emails, although it is reasonable to conclude that the superintendent or acting superintendent, who is appointed to oversee all district operations, is authorized to do so.

Due to Snook having expressed interest in applying for the open superintendent position, she was directed to exclude herself from any discussions or correspondence related to the search of a new superintendent. This directive was given to Abate on behalf of the school board via an email sent in January. Nonetheless, Snook accessed district emails related to the search for a new superintendent subsequent to receiving this directive. The discovery of her monitoring caused the school board to change the methods by which it was conducting its new superintendent search in order to ensure confidentiality. In addition, Snook was suspended pending further action by the school board for her conduct.

Having reviewed the Pennsylvania’s computer-related crimes and also the state Ethics Act, Piecuch concluded that the evidence does not warrant criminal charges. Although Snook did gain access to confidential information, there is no evidence of any personal gain, alteration of data or other criminal intent in her conduct.

According to the news release, whether or not Snook’s conduct deserves further administrative action is a personnel issue most appropriately left to the discretion of the school board. A decision on her continued employment at Midd-West School District in the board’s. School Board President Victor Abate could not be reached for comment Friday evening.