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Expel the high school hackers of Newport Beach

The Newport Beach schools are considering expelling 11 students who didn’t just cheat; with the help and possible urging of a tutor, they hacked into the school computer system to change their grades. And yes, they should be expelled, even though it almost certainly would mean they would not get into the ritzier colleges they were apparently hoping to impress. In fact, especially because that’s what it would mean.

The families are protesting the decision, which is scheduled to be made Tuesday evening, saying there were more than 100 other students who used the same tutor.

“You cannot simply throw a handful of students to the wolves and claim that you have solved the cheating crisis,” a group of three families wrote, according to the Orange County Register. “There are plenty more kids walking around your campus who are as guilty, if not more so, than any of the kids wrapped up in this scandal.”

By all means, let’s go after all the cheaters. And it looks like Newport Beach Unified School District is trying to do that. It’s going through hundreds of thousands of records looking for more evidence of cheating. But it still should expel these 11 miscreants from affluent Corona Del Mar High School.

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These kids didn’t just look over at the desk next to them. According to the reports, at the behest of the private tutor, who is sought by authorities, a device was installed on at least one teacher’s computer that records keystrokes, allowing the students to use teacher passwords to break into the system.

Cheating of all types is rampant at schools, and too often, under threat of lawsuits from parents, schools have settled for a slap on the wrist. Students need a strong message that cheating can hurt them a lot more than it helps them. This one goes way past breaking school rules; laws are involved.

The parents must be beside themselves with anxiety over how badly this will hurt their children’s chances. But this is more than a little mistake in their lives. It might set them back some, but it might also save them from making a much bigger mistake down the line. And for the hackers who turn around their acts and fly straight, the lesson might make for compelling college-essay fodder down the road.

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