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230 choice forms stolen from car

They are in the car when it is stolen. The car is later found, but the applications aren't.

By RODNEY THRASH
Published January 17, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Somewhere out there, someone has the most private information of 230 Hillsborough County School District children.

Names, ages, addresses, phone numbers. Even their Social Security numbers.

All disappeared from the Causeway Boulevard S home of a district marketing specialist when her car was stolen.

Police have found the vehicle. But all that information is gone. School officials now hope someone will recognize the stack of forms and turn them in to authorities, both to allow them to finish the task of assigning students to the schools they chose, and to secure the information.

Last Friday, hundreds of parents scrambled to seven locations throughout Hillsborough County to meet the deadline for turning in their choice applications. Choice is a new program that lets 50,000 of the district's 180,000 students attend a school outside their neighborhood.

One of those locations was Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, where Anna Friedberg, a marketing specialist for the district, was stationed to accept applications. After working through her normal shift, she stuck around to catch the last-minute stragglers.

When she left that night, she headed straight home and had the applications with her. By the time she pulled into the driveway of her Causeway Boulevard S home in St. Petersburg, it didn't occur to her to take the papers inside. They would be secure in the back seat. Her neighborhood was safe. Or so she thought.

Friday passed. So did Saturday. Her gold 1998 Saturn, a 4-door with tinted windows, was parked in the same place it always was: in the driveway. Friedberg woke Sunday morning, ready for a day of worship. But she never made it to church that day. The car - and every last application - was gone.

Tuesday, St. Petersburg police recovered the vehicle at 18th Street and 20th Avenue S. For a moment, Friedberg held out hope. But it was short-lived. Anna's husband, David, opened the door. He looked around the back seat. Nothing.

Most of the applications, about 200, were processed in the district's computer system before they were stolen, spokesman Mark Hart said. Still, the district worries.

"We just don't want them to fall in the wrong hands," Hart said.

Meanwhile, the district has notified its review board. While the district is worried, first and foremost, with finding the applications, there is concern that Friedberg could have done more to protect them.

"The employee involved had put in many hours leading to the choice application deadline," Hart said. "In all probability it was a lapse in judgment. But we need to look at what occurred."

Her husband, David Friedberg, who is the school district's director of security, said his wife cannot be blamed. Several cars were stolen or burglarized last weekend - all in their neighborhood.

"These were papers," he said. "The car was locked, they were secure. This was not money. This was not computer equipment. This was not something that we thought would be a high-theft item."

"These were simply very random acts of theft."

- Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or 813 269-5313.

Police seek info

Anyone with information on the lost applications is asked to call the St. Petersburg Police Department at (727) 893-7780.

[Last modified January 17, 2004, 01:32:39]


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