Trustees vote to expel CdM students from school

After more than five hours of deliberation, Newport-Mesa Unified District trustees voted to remove from Corona del Mar High School the 11 students accused of participating in a detailed cheating scheme.

Around 12:30 a.m., trustees emerged from their second closed session of the night to announce the board had approved the administration’s recommended punishments — a stipulated expulsion — which allows the students to transfer to another high school in the district.

Six of the 11 students have already left the district, said Board President Karen Yelsey.

“The Board of Education has weighed each of the cases presented this evening on an individual basis and in careful detail,” she said. “As a [board], 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.” 

On Dec. 17, 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.

CdM Principal Kathy Scott recommended that the district begin the expulsion process earlier this month, said Laura Boss, district spokeswoman.

A stipulated expulsion may contain an agreement that the student's record be sealed for the time that he or she is in the public school system, Boss said.

School districts do not send discipline records to colleges. If a college requests a certain record, the school district would provide it only with parental permission, Boss said.

Newport-Mesa district parents and students addressed the board before members adjourned to closed session to decide the fate of the 11 students.

Isabel Jorgensen, 16, a junior at Newport Harbor High School, was shocked that the alleged cheating could have been as severe as hacking into computer systems to change grades. The pressure placed on students to earn exemplary grades and get into a reputable college isn't reason enough to cheat, she told a reporter at the meeting.

"There's always a pressure to cheat in a difficult class because it would be easier, but have I ever done it? No," she said. "Students at CdM say they have more pressure than the kids at Harbor, but they don't."

At a recent weekend party, three students accused of participating in the scheme spoke about attending Newport Harbor High next semester, Isabel said, but that notion makes her uncomfortable.

"I don't want to go to an interview with admissions at Stanford and have to explain that I graduated from the school that took in these students," she said.

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 issue has been a topic of conversation at many dinners with her son, a junior at Newport Harbor, she said.

"How is it fair to all students who make a choice everyday to work hard and earn their grades?" she said.

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

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