UPDATED to clarify a board member’s position.
In a closed session meeting that began Tuesday afternoon, then paused and finally ended after midnight, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board decided that 11 students accused of involvement in a hacking scheme should leave the school.
“(T)he Board reviewed the expulsion matters before them, and took action regarding the discipline recommendations and agreements reached with these students and their parents,” according to a statement that Board President Karen Yelsey read for the record after the closed session ended. “The Board’s action imposes discipline upon these students for the maximum allowed by the Education Code for what occurred at Corona del Mar High School.”
The 11 students were identified by numbers, and the votes on six students were unanimous. According to a story published in the Orange County Register, those six students no longer attend school in the district.
The Register story states that Trustees Judy Franco, Katrina Foley and Dana Black opposed the recommendations for the other five students, while the remaining four board members voted in favor of the recommendations in all 11 cases. The students received “stipulated expulsions,” the Register story says, which allow the district to avoid hearings where officials would be required to provide detailed evidence of the students’ wrongdoing and allow the families to respond.
EDITED: Foley said, “I voted against only 3 of the stipulated expulsion agreements because I could not support the agreed to terms for those agreements.”
“Under agreements approved by the board, the 11 students will be allowed to attend nearby schools in the district. They will also have their disciplinary records destroyed,” the Register states.
The students are accused of participating in a scheme, apparently led by a private tutor, to use a keylogging device to hack into teachers’ computers to change grades and steal tests. The scheme became public in December, when one student told school officials and police about his involvement. Police continue to look for the tutor, Tim Lai, of Irvine, but they do not have a warrant for his arrest.
The meeting began at 4:30 p.m. with an open session, where members of the public had the chance to make comments about closed session agenda items. Five people spoke, with all but one encouraging the board to take the matter seriously and hand out harsh punishments.
Newport Harbor High School student Isabel Jorgensen, 16, said several of the students had been attending classes at her school, and that she worried it could give Harbor a reputation as a sanctuary for cheaters.
“They put others at risk and they put others in harms way and they tarnished the reputation of their high school,” she said. “To hear that they might be coming to Newport Harbor High School to tarnish our reputation is equally scary and terrifying.”
Randy Zuckerman of Los Angeles said he was a family friend of a few of the students involved, but that they and their families had been treated unfairly by school and district officials and teachers.
“The students are being blamed for having knowledge of a cheating scandal,” he said. “People do not know the facts.”
Parents who have tried to get answers from the school never received responses, he said, and students were denied due process by being “locked up for hours” and not being allowed to call their parents.
“These students were suspended for six weeks and weren’t provided reasons why they were suspended,” he said. He added that some of the students have siblings still at CdMHS, and other students and even teachers have taunted them.
After hearing the public comments, the board met in a closed session meeting for about an hour before coming back to the dais. Yelsey announced that they would continue their closed meeting after the regular meeting. The closed meeting lasted hours and ended past midnight.
In a statement after the meeting ended, district spokeswoman Laura Boss said that student discipline records are not part of regular college transcripts, and if a college “specifically requests a student’s discipline record, they would only be able to obtain it from the school district by receiving signed parent permission.”
The statement also said that district officials continue to audit all of the teachers’ grade books and has implemented a system districtwide that flags changed grades.
“The District will continue to partner with Corona del Mar High School administration and staff to ensure that the rigor and educational excellence demonstrated by CdM’s graduates for decades is not tarnished,” the statement said. “Despite needing some time to wrestle with the disappointment of this unfortunate incident, we are confident that the school community will rise above this event.”
Read our earlier stories here, here, here, here and here.)