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You Know I'm Right | Commentary by Betty Arenson
| Friday, Feb 21, 2014

bettyarensonThe underlying story is as follows:

Corona del Mar High School in Orange County is reputed as one of California’s top schools. It is part of Newport-Mesa School District with about 2,200 students, of whom 99 percent go on to college. Among other perks, the atmosphere allows an enjoyment of private tutoring.

Unfortunately, one Timothy Lance Lai has surfaced as a tutor-gone-bad, and the scandal’s fallout has tainted the school’s reputation.

Reports in the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register tell of a scheme set in motion by Lai to attach key loggers to teachers’ computers wherein “students changed grades and accessed English, science and history exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels.”

The matter came to light when a teacher noted possible tampering of her computer and grades. The subject is serious enough for the Newport Beach Police Department to investigate. Indications are that they might seek felony counts. Since Lai worked with as many as 150 students, the district is auditing 52,000 student grades of the past year.

Students are being interviewed, but Lai cannot be found.

A neighboring high school parent said: “This isn’t run-of-the-mill cheating. … This was premeditated, sophisticated and ongoing.” She opines that the students should not be allowed to transfer to other schools, in order to send a strong message about the cheating.

School administrators have expelled 11 students. Administrator Jane Garland believes the expulsions are too broad-brush and has resigned. Reportedly, some students were involved in picking locks to enter classrooms while others simply knew of the cheating but did not report it. Garland called Lai a “predator” and said, “the students had varying levels of involvement, ranging from breaking into the school to merely knowing about the hacking scheme.”

One parent wrote an anonymous letter to the principal, stating that her son had not altered his grades, but claimed the school has a broader “culture of cheating” that is not being addressed. “I would suggest you look at some your smartest students who are doing ‘tutoring’ for other CdM students,” the letter said. “It is these ‘smartest students’ who are getting paid to do assignments, write papers and take online tests for other students. CdM’s atmosphere of cheating goes far beyond the students you have marginalized.”

The expelled students will be allowed to transfer to other high schools, but they and the Corona del Mar High school are faced with whether the events will be or should be revealed to any potential college. Opinions range from one end of the scale to the other.

High schools fear being sued by parents if they reveal the transgressions, while they simultaneously fear ruining relationships with colleges by not disclosing same. One dean of admissions said: “Most selective institutions have long memories.”

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the national Association of College Admissions Counseling, claims high schools are responsible for disclosing “serious infractions” to colleges even after a student has been accepted. The University of Washington’s director of undergraduate admissions, Philip. A. Ballinger, said self-reporting is a positive act and the student has a chance to explain him- or herself with the hope that the action would be seen as “singular” rather than habitual.

It’s a common thought that a mid-year transfer to another high school, especially in the junior and senior years, raises a red flag.

Overall it seems, in general, that college admissions personnel believe honesty is the best policy. With no pun intended, isn’t that what got this whole thing started in the first place?

For starters, an upper-scale, highly regarded school is tainted along with all students, and it will take great efforts to overcome that.

In the end, with what is known to date, let alone if the one parent’s claims of cheating on a broader scale is proven, what should be the price of taking part in a cheating episode of this magnitude?

If prudence reigns it would seem reasonable to 1) assess each party’s involvement individually; 2) expel the active participants; 3) establish a school district policy that mandates reporting cheating to school officials with identity protection – akin to whistle-blowing; 4) file charges for the illegal acts of breaking and entering, etc.; 5) allow transfer to other schools with full disclosure; and 6) establish district policy telling all parents and students that misconduct will have x-y-z consequences and will be disclosed to any and all future learning institutions.

Most of all, let’s hope no parent decides to sue the high school district for telling the truth about little Johnny or Susie. That would be a bad lesson learned.

 

Betty Arenson has lived in the SCV since 1968 and describes herself as a conservative who’s concerned about progressives’ politics and their impacts on the country, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She says she is unashamed to own a gun or a Bible, couldn’t care less about the color of the president’s skin, and demands that he uphold his oath to protect and follow the Constitution of the United States in its entirety. Her commentary publishes Fridays.

 

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