Maryland’s inspector general for education is investigating whether outgoing Maryland schools superintendent Mohammed Choudhury and other state education department leaders improperly shielded their communications from public records requests.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told The Baltimore Banner the state watchdog is asking questions about the administration’s use of Signal, an encrypted messaging app, to discuss state business. The source spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Inspector General for Education Richard Henry said his office could neither confirm nor deny an investigation. However, The Baltimore Banner has reviewed emails and a voicemail from investigators seeking information about Signal messaging among Maryland State Department of Education leadership.
Signal is a private messaging app that is known for using end-to-end encryption, which prevents third parties from accessing the data. Signal users notably can also set messages to disappear after certain periods of time.
Maryland law defines a public record to include correspondences that are made or received by a unit of state government in connection with its conduct of public business. That includes electronic communications such as text messages or emails.
If Signal messages between education department officials were swiftly and automatically deleted, they would not appear in responses to public records requests, shielding communications that would otherwise be subject to public scrutiny.
Choudhury and department representatives did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Leaders for the Maryland State Board of Education declined to comment.
Choudhury, whose resignation is effective Friday, had come under fire in recent months in part for apparently using Signal in his capacity leading the education department.
At a news conference in August, Choudhury denied using the app for his job in response to a question from a Fox45 reporter. However, screenshots reviewed by The Banner appear to show Choudhury discussing state matters through the app. Some Republican politicians subsequently called for the superintendent to resign.
Choudhury, who some lauded for his progressive policies but others derided for what they said was a toxic management style, apparently lost the support of state board of education members and some lawmakers over the summer. He had previously said he wanted to renew his four-year contract, which was set to expire in June 2024, but abruptly withdrew from consideration last month. Choudhury and the board negotiated a deal that will keep him on as a senior adviser for policy until the end of June, and he will retain his salary, which his original contract set at $310,000.
State leaders announced Carey Wright, a former Mississippi state schools superintendent who led a stunning rebound in math and reading scores, will take over as Maryland’s interim superintendent on Oct. 23.
Another top education department administrator, Assistant State Superintendent Justin Dayhoff, is leaving the department Oct. 11. Investigators have sought information about Dayhoff’s use of the Signal app as well. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Dayhoff, who oversaw the education department’s financial planning, operations and strategy, has taken a job with Allovue, an education finance software company based in Baltimore, according to a post on his LinkedIn profile.