An Irvine tutor allegedly helped a dozen Corona del Mar High School students hack into the campus computer system to change their grades and review tests, authorities said Thursday.
Timothy Lance Lai, 28, is wanted for questioning, Newport Beach Police Department investigators confirmed.
The students’ identities haven’t been released, but officials said they are in various grades and could face criminal charges as well as school discipline.
Lai allegedly provided the youths with a key logger — a small device that can be placed in the back of a computer to monitor keystrokes — and taught them how to use it to swipe logins and passwords. With the recorded data, the students allegedly accessed grades and exams.
Teachers were dismayed when the school district held a meeting Wednesday to inform them of the most recent hacking incident, district spokeswoman Laura Boss wrote in an email.
“Honesty and integrity are cornerstones of the quality educational program at CdM,” she wrote. “The students engaging in this unlawful conduct have failed to meet those standards and should be ashamed of their behavior.”
Newport-Mesa Unified School District Trustee Martha Fluor called the incident “disheartening,” especially at a high school known for its high-achieving student body.
“When these things happen, I always ask myself what’s going on in a kid’s life that they feel the need to cheat and cut corners?” she said. “There’s a pressure to be at the top. I think we have to look at some of those issues as a society.”
Students often feel pressure to get good grades and go to top colleges, said Miles Murai,16, a CdM junior not associated with hacking case.
“I think there’s an idea that if you don’t get into a good college, a top college like Harvard, that you’re not going anywhere in life,” he said.
“But I don’t think the kids that got caught cheating are going to get into a very good college now,” added another student, John Linnell, 17.
This isn’t the first incident of student misconduct in recent years.
Two years ago, 10 Corona del Mar students bought answers for a history test on Amazon.com. One student was accused of attempting to sell the answers to classmates.
A 17-year-old Corona del Mar senior was arrested in 2004 after being accused of changing grades in the school’s computer system for other students.
Teachers were dismayed when the school district held a meeting to inform them of the most recent hacking incident Wednesday, district spokeswoman Laura Boss wrote in an email.
These situations are something that the district does not take lightly, Fluor said.
“If it’s happening at one school you don’t know if it’s happening at other schools,” she said. “It’s distressing.”
Anyone with information about Lai’s location is asked to call NBPD Det.David Syvock at (949) -644-3771 or Det.ective Sgt. Doug Jones at (949) -644-3775.