Berkeley High School administrators are considering the expulsion of between two and four students after discovering they found their way into the school's attendance software and charged other students to list them as present for classes they had skipped. More than 32 students face suspension for their involvement in the scam.
Yesterday, KQED's Cy Musiker interviewed Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi about the scandal. Listen to the interview or read the transcript below...
CY MUSKER: As principal of Berkeley High School, how did you discover this scam and what were the students doing?
PASQUALE SCUDERI: Coming into the school year, attendance was a very big focus. We upped staffing in the attendance office and added an administrator, a dean of attendance. That increased staffing has led us to be looking at attendance data far more consistently and far more in-depth than we have in the past. And having more eyes on the data, we noticed some irregularities in December that led to a deeper look; that investigation widened, we followed some paper trails, worked with district technical staff.
Ultimately we ascertained we had a problem, and then it was a slow and deliberate process of about 8-10 weeks getting everything in order and then starting the process of interviewing roughly 50 students.
MUSIKER: And one of the students actually had gotten a hold of a password to get into the system…
SCUDERI: That's generally what happened. There are some specifics I'd like to withhold only because they were key in us discovering what happened, but in essence a password or two was compromised in our student attendance database.
MUSIKER: Expulsion is the ultimate penalty for a student, and in a letter to parents you wrote that the expulsions could become a permanent record and affect a young person's chance of finding a job. What makes it the appropriate punishment?
SCUDERI: It's our judgment that we have community agreements and expectations of all of our students, and we think this reached a level of dishonesty and a level of premeditation that at least warrants a process that considers whether or not these students have forfeited the privilege of being a part of our school community.
MUSIKER: You also wrote that some have questioned the use of suspensions in this matter, for the 32 other students. What concerns did people express?
SCUDERI: I think when you use the tool of suspension, which is pretty much the traditional go-to consequence for a lot of things that happen in school, a lot of parents, a lot of community members, and a lot of people in the field of education question whether or not removing someone from school actually solves the problem.
There are a couple of ways of looking at that. One is that I think sometimes suspension, if parents are on board and teachers are on board, can provide an extensive window of time when a student can deeply reflect and reconsider their actions.
MUSIKER: Are you concerned this will cause your school state funding, because you'll have to reduce the daily attendance totals?
SCUDERI: We discovered this early enough that we were able to restore all the absences that had been altered in an unauthorized manner in our database. We didn't go public with this until this week, but we addressed the security issue and reversed the changes that had been made very early on. So the positive irony in all this is that our staffing and emphasis on attendance looks like it's going to yield a pretty notable gain in attendance for the year for Berkeley High.
MUSIKER: Have you tightened your computer security?
SCUDERI: Yeah, I would say we've tightened a lot of things, and anytime you have an incident like this, whether it be around technical security or the physical security of the campus or school policy or instructions, we try to model what we expect our students to be, and that is continuous learners. That we're always learning how to do things better.