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School hacking incident could have wider implications

May 25, 2012

One juvenile boy from Mammoth High School was arrested in early May on suspicion of hacking into the school’s database to change their grades and the grades of at least some additional students, according to the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.

Another boy might also be involved and both could be expelled from the district with possible expulsion hearings planned in the next week or so, school district officials said. At least one of the boys may also face criminal charges after being arrested on suspicion of violation of 502 of the Penal Code (Unauthorized Access to Computers, Computer Systems, and Computer Data) and 460 PC (Second Degree Burglary), then cited back to juvenile court.

The unknown number of students who wanted their grades to be changed will face at least a day’s suspension under the school code for cheating.

On the surface, the situation looks relatively mild—two boys out to defy, out for fun and profit (the boys may have charged the students money to change their grades). But the implications—what happens when you can’t trust your child’s grade, your own grade, how can a college trust the grades of graduating seniors, etc.,—could be far more serious.

The Times asked Mammoth Unified Superintendent Rich Boccia about the incident:

MT: What is the educational code/law that the boys are accused of violating? Does it have a name?
RB: The Education Code 48900 outlines reasons for suspension from school.

MT: What is the punishment associated with that? Is this set by the district, the state or?
RB: The Education Code provides language for suspending students from school, which range from a day to five days.  In the case that there is a recommendation for expulsion, that suspension may be extended pending the outcome of the hearing.

MT: When is the expulsion hearing? Is it open to the public?
RB: We are working with their families and their advocates to schedule these hearings.  These are private hearings and are not open to the public.  We are required to maintain student confidentiality.

MT: What is the punishment for the kids that allowed their grades to be changed? Under what district or ed. code law is that punishment established?
RB: This is confidential information as we protect the rights of our students.

MT: There is concern in the community that this situation could put into question the grades of students and college’s and other institutions ability to rely on those grades. How do you address this concern? 
RB: We are reviewing all of our policies and procedures at this time and are taking the appropriate measures to increase security in our technology systems. We have some very bright students that have challenged our system.  

MT: What are you doing to rectify the damage caused and to be sure it does not happen again? Do you know how many months, years, this has been going on? What if kids graduated last year with good grades, or are set to graduate this year with good grades but didn’t earn them, etc.
RB: Our investigation indicates that this was a short -term incident that has been discovered and is being resolved.  We will continue to review grades as we close this semester and will take the appropriate measures if we discover any other inconsistencies in student grades.

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