11 students expelled in Corona del Mar High cheating scandal

Eleven students at Corona del Mar High School were expelled Tuesday in connection with a cheating scandal that has rocked the high-performing Orange County campus.

School officials allege that the students hacked into the district’s computer system to change grades and access exams.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees reached the decision early Wednesday after lengthy closed-door discussions.


In a statement, board President Karen Yelsey said the decision to expel the students from the school -- the most severe penalty being considered -- follows the recommendations made by the school principal and district administration.

“The Board of Education has weighed each of the cases presented this evening on an individual basis and in careful detail,” she said. “We’ve focused on the cases for hours in closed session. As a Board of Education, we are unanimous in our resolve to ensure the academic integrity of CDM and the district, as well as in delivering justice for the cases before us.”

The votes of the board varied. Six decisions for expulsion were unanimous; others were split 4-3 and 6-1.

Last month, the district confirmed that students attached a keylogger — a small device that can be placed in the back of a computer to monitor keystrokes — to several teachers’ computers to swipe logins and passwords, allegedly with the help of a private tutor.

With the recorded information, the students allegedly changed grades and accessed English, science and history exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels.

Out of the 398 students who graduated from Corona del Mar High last year, 99% of them attended college in the fall, with the majority of them enrolling at four-year universities, according to the school profile published by the district.

Before the closed-session vote, many parents and students addressed the board.

Randy Zuckerman, a resident of Los Angeles, spoke to the crowd on behalf of the families of three of the 11 students.

The three students Zuckerman spoke about did not participate in the changing of grades, he said, but were aware that cheating was occurring.

“Knowing cheating is taking place is not reason enough to be expelled,” he said after closed session. “These kids are humiliated. They can’t unring this bell.”

Yolanda Newton, a Newport Harbor High parent, stressed to trustees the importance of sending a message to students who were involved by refusing to allow them to transfer to schools within the district.

“This isn’t run-of-the-mill cheating,” she said. “This was premeditated, sophisticated and ongoing.”

The district is in the process of auditing 52,000 student grades to see how many may have been altered by students this year.

The Newport Beach Police Department still hopes to talk to the tutor involved in the alleged incident, but has been unable to locate him.


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Fry writes for Times Community News.