O.C. students accused of hacking, changing grades may face expulsion

A crosswalk attendant stops traffic along Eastbluff Drive as students make their way to Corona del Mar High School in September.
(Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

The roughly dozen Corona del Mar High students accused of hacking into the school’s computers to access tests and change grades are still facing the possibility of expulsion from the district, Newport-Mesa Unified officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

The district made the clarification after published reports that Newport-Mesa was considering a disciplinary measure known as “restorative justice,” the Daily Pilot reported.

The district this school year moved away from the longtime zero-tolerance policy and began using restorative justice, which encourages students to develop empathy and understand the reasons for their actions.

“While the district is a proponent of restorative justice, and uses the practice in many cases, restorative justice is not being utilized in the current CdM process,” according to a news release from the district.


The students, mostly juniors and seniors, allegedly used a keylogger — a small device that can be placed in the back of a computer to monitor keystrokes — to swipe teachers’ logins and passwords to access test questions and change grades.

Newport Beach police are still looking for Timothy Lance Lai, 28, the Irvine tutor who allegedly provided the students with the device and taught them how to use it. He is being sought for questioning.

Corona del Mar Principal Kathy Scott recommended last week that the district begin the expulsion process, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

However, expulsions must be approved by the school board, according to district policy.

A closed hearing will determine whether individual students should be expelled based on evidence provided to the board, said Board President Karen Yelsey.

When that hearing will take place isn’t clear.

If students are expelled, they are prohibited from returning to any Newport-Mesa Unified school for a year.

“It is important to recognize that student disciplinary action is only one aspect of resolving this unfortunate and troubling situation,” Boss wrote in the news release.


While students involved in the incident could face criminal charges, none have been filed, said Jennifer Manzella, spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Police Department.

Hannah Fry is a Times Community News staff writer.