Petition urges county ed board to drop CdM lawsuit

A group of Newport-Mesa Unified parents are circulating an online petition urging the Orange County Board of Education to drop a lawsuit filed against the district and several Corona del Mar High School families whose children allegedly participated in CdM's recent cheating scandal.

The petition encourages the board to "stop wasting taxpayer money" and end the lawsuit, which was filed March 24 by the county board. The group's goal of 100 signatures was attained by Thursday morning, after just two days of being circulated online.

"People are sick and tired of this. It's going beyond people being angry that this cheating happened in the first place," said Kim Gessford, a district parent who has children at CdM Middle School and Lincoln Elementary School. "Now people are angry that three parents are heading down the road to appeal what we thought was finally over."

The county department of education filed the lawsuit against the district and five CdM High School families in an effort to get judicial clarity about whether it can hear appeals from students expelled in the cheating scandal.

"The Orange County Board of Education members should be ashamed of themselves," an unnamed parent wrote in a letter being circulated with the petition. "They had the opportunity to end this, yet, they for some reason want to investigate further with your money."

A secondary goal of the petition is to discourage the parents of three Corona del Mar High students who were removed from school for allegedly participating in the cheating scheme from appealing their expulsions.

Irvine tutor Timothy Lance Lai allegedly masterminded the plot that allowed the students to change grades and access exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels, according to officials. Police have tried unsuccessfully to locate him since the case went public in December.

As of March 24, the district has spent $44,707 in legal fees since the CdM issue became public in December, district spokeswoman Laura Boss said in a previous interview.

"That's money that parents would love to see go toward educational purposes," Gessford said.

Since the county board announced the lawsuit, Newport-Mesa officials have approved an amended expulsion agreement with one of the five families that filed an appeal with the county, said board President Karen Yelsey.

The Newport-Mesa board decided to change "sealed and destroyed" to "expunged" in connection with the students' records after graduation, and clarified the language in the document with regard to the students' return to CdM at the end of the school year.

One parent decided to drop the appeal on their own accord. Another family is still deciding whether to accept the district's amended stipulated expulsion agreement, which clarified language from the initial agreement they signed in February.

It's important for the county board to understand how much time and money the lawsuit is costing the district, said Trustee Katrina Foley.

"The majority of the community is ready to close this chapter, so that everyone including the families can move forward," she said.

However, parents say the expulsion agreements should not be upheld because, they claim, the district was dishonest about evidence against their children and coerced the families into signing the documents by saying that if they were to go before the board for a hearing, the students would surely be expelled.

Because the agreements were polluted with fraud, the county board is required to hear the students' appeals, said Meldie Moore, a Laguna Beach-based education attorney representing several families.

Many community members added comments to their online signatures, sharing the reasons they believe the lawsuit should come to an end.

"It is sad that some kids think there are no consequences for their actions," wrote Brian Flood, a CdM resident. "The agreed-upon punishment is fair (more lenient than I would have done) so stop wasting our time and money with this issue."

Officials with the Orange County Department of Education declined to comment on the petition.

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