A student who was expelled from Glenbrook North High School for trying to hack into its grading system has sued the school board, saying the district abused its power by imposing an “unreasonable” and “oppressive” punishment.
An adult relative filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 15-year-old sophomore after Glenbrook High School District 225 officials expelled him for the remainder of the school year and all of next school year for his role in a grade-changing scheme.
The plot was engineered by another student, who created a fake email address that appeared to be from PowerSchool, where students’ grades are electronically recorded.
According to the lawsuit and a report from the district hearing officer, the student who created the fake email sent it to several teachers and asked them to use a provided link to log in. The login page was also fake but allowed the student to capture the passwords of teachers who fell for the scheme, and two of them did, according to the lawsuit and the report.
That student told investigators he was able to “view students grades and edit them,” the hearing officer’s report said.
The student who is now suing over his expulsion had a marginal role, the lawsuit asserts. It claims that the other student shared a teacher’s stolen password with him and that he used it to try to gain entry to the grading system but failed. The student also admitted in the lawsuit that he sent emails to two teachers from his own account asking about his grades, and those emails included the link to the fraudulent website created by the other student.
The student is identified in the lawsuit, filed in Cook County last week, only by his initials. His attorney declined to comment about the lawsuit, as did a school district spokeswoman.
School officials first suspended the student for 10 days and then the expulsion was handed down late last month following a formal hearing. It’s not clear whether other students involved were also expelled.
The lawsuit argues that state law and legal precedence require that school districts consider other measures of punishment before expulsion, and that failed to happen in this case.
According to the hearing officer’s report, an administrator at the Northbrook school did not specify whether other measures were considered but said a disciplinary committee that investigated “felt it was important to send a message.”
“If (the student) is allowed to return to school after serving a suspension, then other students could certainly decide that attempting to access a teacher’s account to change grades is worth the risk,” the report said.
The lawsuit contends that the student has not had disciplinary problems at school and that his actions caused no disruption to school operations, factors that the suit contends should have resulted in lesser punishment.
In the hearing officer’s report, however, district officials countered that “the disruption came in the form of the many work hours spent trying to find the problem and repair it. The loss of trust came in the form of attacking the academic honesty of the system.
“In other words,” the report continued, “if the teachers’ grades were subject to attack and could be surreptitiously changed, the entire school district would lack credibility.”
The disciplinary committee did recommend that administrators consider reducing the length of the student’s expulsion if he met certain conditions, such as completing an ethics or digital citizenship course and continuing his education through a private alternative school and home tutoring provided by the district.
The lawsuit states that the student’s conduct, though wrong, was not “egregious,” and that an expulsion will hurt his chances of getting into college.
District 225 spokeswoman Karen Geddeis said she couldn’t comment about the lawsuit or on disciplinary actions taken against students, citing privacy concerns.
“The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority, so this is something that would fall under that,” she said.
The district has also taken measures to ensure the security of its grading system.
“We do take the best preventative measures we can, but you’re never dealing with absolutes with technology and security,” Geddeis said.
The scheme was reported to school officials on March 23 by a student who received a screen shot from another student via Snapchat of the teacher grading system, showing the student’s grade had been changed.
The mother of the student who is suing told school officials that her son tried to use the PowerSchool email only “to prove that it would not work,” according to documents filed with the suit.
Tribune reporters Steve Schmadeke and Grace Wong contributed.
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