http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/broward/sfl-grades060602.story?coll=sfla%2Dnews%2Dbroward By Bill Hirschman and Jamie Malernee Education Writers Posted June 6 2002 Every student's grades at Western High School are being re-examined after a junior admitted hacking into the school's computer and changing classmates' grades for $5, officials said Wednesday. Barely a week before graduation and final exams, teachers are being asked to review grades for the 4,500 students at Broward County's second-largest school. Two students, described as "computer whizzes," were suspended for 10 days this month for violating the district's student code of conduct regulating technology that forbids "vandalizing data [and] infiltrating systems," officials said. One suspect's parents said the charges are baseless. The boy who admitted to the hacking is cooperating with investigators, officials said. The Sun-Sentinel is not naming the students because they are minors and no criminal charges have been filed. District investigators are trying to determine whether other students were involved, said Joe Melita, executive director of the districtís investigative unit. No one knows how many records were changed, but one student has admitted to altering 20 grades or attendance records, Melita said. Assistant Principal Monty Escabi said those grades appeared to be for tests and quizzes, not final grades. But all teachers were asked in a memo Tuesday to "review your grades in previously saved documents." The Davie school - with satellite campuses in Weston and Sunrise - is one of several in Broward where marks are kept in a centralized computer program called the electronic gradebook. In theory, only guidance counselors and administrators have access to every teachers' individual section of the computer. Early indications are that the students may have hacked into the school's computer to get teachers' passwords, Escabi said. They likely changed other students' grades, not their own, because they are "very, very smart" kids who fancied themselves as hackers - and accomplished just that, Escabi said. "These are not your average students," he said. "They've been around computers for a long time, have computers at home, and go to hacker [Web] sites to learn how to do this." Anonymous tip came in School officials received an anonymous tip about hacking some months ago but were unable to find any signs of tampering, said district spokesman Kirk Englehardt. Then a parent called two or three weeks ago naming a specific student who had changed grades, Melita said. The student was questioned and no indication was found that grades had been changed. But last week a teacher noticed that a zero she had given a student had been changed to a 100. When that student was questioned, he named another student - not the one questioned weeks earlier. "It's obvious that if a kid is doing nothing in class and then he has a 90 [percent], well, it's just quite obvious," Escabi said. The first student admitted that he and a friend had been changing grades and attendance records "for some time," Melita said. On Monday, the friend was caught trying to use a teacher's password on a computer in the school's library. The codes apparently had been changed and the password didn't work. That boy's mother said Wednesday that her son got the password from the first boy and was only trying to check his e-mail on a Web site blocked from normal access. The first student claimed a chorus teacher had given his password to several classmates because Internet-censoring software blocked students from being able to access Web sites they legitimately used for research on classwork. Mom defends son "He did something very foolish. He should have talked to the teacher," his mother said, concerned that the district is punishing her son too severely without proof. "But my son is a good student. He's very respectful. He has not been in trouble and they're not even giving him the benefit of the doubt." She said he didn't know he was doing anything wrong, evidenced by trying to log on "right in front of the librarian." The teacher has denied giving the password to anyone, Area Superintendent Verda Farrow said. Farrow said the boy was not suspended because of the grade-changing allegation, but because he was using a teacher's password. However, his involvement in the grade changing is under investigation. The suspended students will not be able to return to campus this school year, but they will be allowed to take their final exams this summer. In a memo Wednesday, Western's media specialist warned teachers not to give their passwords to students, not to leave their computers turned on and unattended, and to change their password regularly. They were also advised to do weekly printouts of grades as a backup when such incidents occur. Since the discovery, the school has contacted the company that provides the electronic grade books. New passwords and additional security measures have been added to prevent future incidents, Escabi said. Bill Hirschman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4513. - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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