District hires ethics consultant in wake of cheating scandal

Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees on Tuesday voted unanimously to hire an ethics consultant to improve the culture at Corona del Mar High School.

The district will spend $5,000 to hire Kevin O'Grady, of O'Grady School Solutions, to provide training for students in diversity, honesty, inclusivity and ethics next school year. The Newport Beach high school has faced scrutiny several times this year, motivating district officials to seek out a consultant to improve the image of the school, which enjoys a high academic ranking.


"During the last school year, incidents have occurred that have demonstrated a need for training on sensitivity, ethics, tolerance and bullying," the staff report states.

In December, eleven students were identified as participating in a years-long cheating scandal at the high school.


Students' involvement ranged from breaking into the school to place keyloggers on the back of teachers' computers in order to access exams and change grades to having knowledge of the cheating.

The juniors and seniors involved opted to sign stipulated expulsion agreements in January that prohibited them from returning to CdM this school year but allowed them to transfer to another school in the district.

The district is still embroiled in a legal battle with the family of one of the students.

In May, CdM made headlines again after word spread that the high school's junior and senior boys were selecting prom dates in the style of a professional sports league's draft.


The intent of the draft, which was described as "creepy" and "sexist" on social media, was to avoid the infighting and controversy that often follows the selection of prom dates, students said.

While many CdM students saw the prom draft as harmless fun, Principal Kathy Scott condemned the students' actions in a letter to the campus community. In it she explained that sexist behavior would not be tolerated at the high school.

Ann Huntington, assistant superintendent of special education, said about the hiring of the consultant: "We felt that he might be able to help the school work through some of the issues of the past year. He's going to look at what it means to be a CdM student and talk about ways to be more inclusive."

O'Grady will host a one-day workshop with CdM student leaders in August "to refresh their culture and identity," Huntington said.

This isn't the first time the district has called on O'Grady to help restore CdM's image.

In 2009, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, several CdM varsity athletes posted a video showing them threatening to rape and kill a female student who was the lead actress in a student production of the musical "Rent." The athletes also used slurs in the video to describe another classmate who they believed was gay, the lawsuit states.

Trustees will consider expanding O'Grady's services to the district's other schools in the fall, Huntington said.

Trustee Martha Fluor said she's optimistic that the consultant will improve conditions at the high school.


"It's a beginning point to have a conversation among students, staff and parents in terms of developing good, solid ethical and moral character," she said. "That comes from home, but we're here to support the families at school."