Judge seals records in CdM cheating suit

An Orange County Superior Court judge this week sealed all records related to the lawsuit that a Corona del Mar family brought against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

The family of a student expelled from Corona del Mar High School in the aftermath of a cheating scandal at the school filed the lawsuit in May.

The judge's action means that no documents obtained by the court related to the case are available to the public.

The move also prevents attorneys, district officials and the family from discussing the case outside of court.

Eleven Corona del Mar students were expelled from the high school for allegedly participating in a years-long elaborate cheating scheme.

Under the supervision of a tutor, Timothy Lai, the students allegedly placed keylogging devices onto the back of teachers' computers to steal passwords so they could change grades and access tests, authorities have said.

Police have been unable to find Lai, a former Irvine resident, since the cheating came to light in December.

The anonymity of the students who were expelled has been in the forefront of their parents' minds since news of the cheating became public, the families have said.

While some members of the tight-knit Newport Beach community rallied around the students, some parents said their children were ostracized when their peers found out.

The lawsuit alleges that school officials intimidated, coerced statements from and illegally threatened the students with expulsion without proper evidence, according to court papers the Daily Pilot obtained before the case was sealed.

Eleven juniors and seniors opted to sign stipulated expulsion agreements in January prohibiting them from returning to CdM this school year but allowing them to transfer to another school in the school district.

By signing, the students waived their rights to appeal the expulsion, the district has said.

However, the complaint filed by the family states that the students' agreement was signed under duress and therefore is fraudulent and should not be upheld.

Five families initially brought their cases to the Orange County Department of Education board in March in an attempt to overturn the stipulated agreements.

The county board urged the district to clarify wording in the agreements. Four of the five families settled with the district, and the county board ultimately voted not to make a decision regarding the agreements.

By the end of March, Newport-Mesa Unified had spent $44,707 in legal fees since the CdM issue became public.

As of June, the legal cost has climbed to $74,473.48, according to district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

District officials have expressed a desire to reduce legal costs associated with the scandal.

"I think it's disappointing," trustee Katrina Foley said in a previous interview. "It's taking money away from student services, programs and supplies."

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