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County school board on fence about CdM cheating

Members to keep reviewing CdM students' expulsion agreements before deciding whether they can hear appeals.

March 12, 2014|By Hannah Fry

After hours of deliberation, the Orange County Department of Education's board decided Wednesday that it needed more time to determine whether it has the authority to hear the appeals of five Corona del Mar High School students who were expelled for their involvement in the school's cheating scandal.

The board voted to continue reviewing, with the help of outside legal counsel, the stipulated expulsion agreements signed by the students' families in place of an expulsion hearing.

Eleven CdM juniors and seniors were expelled during a January Newport-Mesa Unified School District board meeting for allegedly taking part in the scheme. Students' involvement ranged from knowing cheating was happening and not reporting it to attaching key logging devices to teachers' computers to swipe logins and passwords, district officials have said.

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Irvine tutor Timothy Lance Lai allegedly masterminded the plot that allowed the students to change grades and access exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels, according to officials. Police have tried unsuccessfully to locate him since the case went public in December.

This is the first time the county education board has been asked to review stipulated expulsion agreements, said Rick Riegel, student services coordinator for the Department of Education.

The agreements between Newport-Mesa Unified and the students allows the students to bypass a traditional expulsion hearing and grants them certain terms that they may not receive in a hearing, such as being able to attend Newport Harbor High School.

The county education board is required to hear appeals by expelled students, according to the education code, but there is some question as to whether stipulated expulsion agreements fall into the same category.

Former Newport-Mesa administrator Jane Garland, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and attorneys representing the five students' families cited the education code and legal precedent that they say mandate the board hear the appeals.

"The law is unambiguous on its face," said Meldie Morre, a Laguna Beach-based education and expulsion attorney. "It demands an appeal after an expulsion."

However, Steven Montanez, Newport-Mesa Unified's attorney, said that because there was no expulsion hearing, the county board doesn't have the authority to hear the appeal.

"You would open the floodgates of expulsion hearings if you hear this," he told the board.

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