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Newport-Mesa administrator resigns in protest

Jane Garland, who was in charge of discipline, disliked the handling of CdM cheating investigation.

February 05, 2014|By Christopher Goffard
  • Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees voted to expel 11 students accused of participating in a detailed cheating scheme at Corona del Mar High School.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustees voted… (KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

An administrator for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District resigned Wednesday after alleging the school district badly mishandled a computer-hacking scandal that resulted in the expulsion of 11 students.

Jane Garland, who was deeply involved in the case for months as the district's head of discipline, said the district ignored her recommendations to give the students a lighter punishment.

"They didn't stop to think about it," she said. "They went ahead, and these children got destroyed in the newspapers."

Garland, in an email to school board members and administrators, called the handling of the expulsions "a total farce" and said the way in which students were selected for punishment seemed "arbitrary."

Eleven students were expelled last week from high-achieving Corona del Mar High School amid allegations that they were involved in a scheme to hack into the district computer system to change grades and access exams.

Officials say the scheme was instigated by a tutor, 28-year-old Timothy Lance Lai, who allegedly told students to attach to teachers' computers a "keylogger," which recorded keystrokes and revealed passwords.

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Newport Beach detectives served a search warrant at Lai's home on East Yale Loop in Irvine and seized thumb drives, hard drives and other evidence that may broaden the scope of the cheating scandal. Lai himself, however, cannot be found.

"If you have a young girl who gets on the Internet and meets an older man, he's a predator, right?" Garland said. "We had a predator here.… He had these children scared to death."

After reviewing the evidence, Garland said, she learned that culpability among the students varied, and some of them had knowledge of the cheating scheme but did not participate in the hacking.

"Of these 11 kids, seven of them we don't have anything on — not even their own admission — to what they did," she said.

Garland, who has worked for the district for 13 years in various jobs, said she is a champion of "restorative" punishment, and advocated keeping the students in the high school but disciplining them by, perhaps, requiring them to tutor other kids and take classes on the consequences of their decisions.

When Corona del Mar officials interviewed students about the case, she said, the students were given the impression that their punishment would be lighter if they implicated others.

"The kids feel like, 'I gave up my friends,' " she said. "You don't do that to children."

She said CdM Principal Kathy Scott learned Lai's name in September but failed to promptly warn parents about him.

Parents say Lai may have worked with as many as 150 students, and officials are auditing 52,000 student grades to see how many might have been changed.

Scott has repeatedly declined to comment on the cheating scandal.

"I believe the system is willing to allow these 11 students to take the fall and close the book on this matter," Garland wrote in her email, a copy of which was obtained by the Daily Pilot.

"Whatever is going to happen to the other 150 kids?" Garland said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "Are we going to throw everybody out of school?"

Officials at CdM referred calls to district spokesperson Laura Boss, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Goffard writes for the Los Angeles Times and can be reached at christopher.goffard@latimes.com.

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