CPS elementary students received flood of ‘inappropriate’ emails, district says

An initial message sparked an email chain riddled with profanity and question marks.

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Chicago Public Schools students use computers

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Elementary students at Chicago Public Schools were inundated Sunday with a flood of “inappropriate” emails, prompting concerns from teachers and parents.

Phillip DiBartolo, the district’s chief information officer, confirmed to parents that elementary school students received a “series” of unsavory messages that were sent from “CPS email accounts” between 10:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., according to an email obtained by the Sun-Times.

The initial message read: “I do not know who I am. I do not know why I am here. All I know is that I must kill,” emails obtained by the Sun-Times show. That sparked an email chain riddled with profanity and question marks.

Claudia Martinez, a parent of a third grader at a Near West Side elementary school, said her daughter received more than 40 emails in her district-issued inbox over the span of two hours.

“The original email was pretty scary,” said Martinez, who can access her daughter’s CPS emails on her phone. “And then people started replying to her from all over... and it kind of became a free for all, where people were just answering and saying all kinds of things.”

Martinez said she was relieved that her daughter never read the messages but worries about what would’ve happened if this occurred during school hours.

“If it had been something that happened during the school week when she was actually looking at her own email and it wasn’t me, I think she would’ve been scared. I think a lot of kids would’ve been scared,” Martinez said.

Following a review, DiBartolo told parents that a district-wide email group that includes all elementary-school students “accidentally allowed group members to reply all to messages and reach the entire group.” As a result, “a series of replies” went out to the entire group.

“We have corrected this issue to ensure additional messages cannot be sent, and we are working to remove any unread messages to the extent possible,” DiBartolo wrote.

While DiBartolo said the specific issue “did not pose an information security risk or permit access to anyone outside the CPS network,” he acknowledged that the emails “may have been concerning” for parents and students alike. 

A CPS spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about the emails, including the content. They did, however, send a copy of DiBartolo’s letter to parents.

Martinez said she tried to contact CPS’ technical support after she saw the emails but wasn’t able to connect with anyone. She believes it’s vital that the district has a 24/7 helpline so incidents like Sunday’s can be addressed in a timely manner.

“It’s just a little disappointing that this could even happen [and] that there’s nothing in place to block students or anybody else from accessing an email like this,” Martinez said. “I can’t even send my kids emails to their CPS [email account], but the fact something like this can happen is just to me unexplainable, there’s really no excuse for something like this to happen.”

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