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County board sues Newport-Mesa, 5 CdM families over cheating scandal

March 25, 2014|By Hannah Fry

The Orange County Department of Education filed suit Monday against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and five Corona del Mar High School families in an effort to get judicial clarity about whether it can hear appeals from students expelled in CdM's cheating scandal.

Shortly after filing the lawsuit, the county Board of Education held a special meeting Monday night to determine if Newport-Mesa had reached a settlement agreement with the expelled students' families since the board last met March 12. If an agreement had been met, the lawsuit could have been rendered moot, but no such accord was in place, so the legal action will progress.

However, during a closed session Tuesday evening, school board trustees unanimously approved an amended agreement with one of the five families that filed an appeal with the county department, according to board President Karen Yelsey.  The board also approved during this session a pending agreement with another of the five families. It was unclear what specific changes were approved by trustees.

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The school board Tuesday also authorized legal council to defend the district from the Department of Education’s lawsuit.

At the heart of the issue are stipulated expulsion agreements each of the students and their parents signed in January to avoid a formal expulsion hearing. Under the agreements, the students were allowed to transfer to another school in the district and return to CdM in June, and disciplinary records were sealed.

But the families later called those agreements unfair and appealed to the county for relief.

After the county board discussed the issue March 12, the Newport-Mesa school board held a special, closed-session meeting where its trustees altered some words in the expulsion agreements in an attempt to negotiate with the parents.

The Newport-Mesa board then decided to change "sealed and destroyed" to "expunged" in connection with the students' records after graduation, and clarified the language in the document with regard to the students' return to CdM at the end of the school year.

Trustees provided the updated stipulated agreements to the families and said they would only be accepted by the district if all five families agreed to sign. Two families signed, and three refused.

"We were trying to come to an agreement to stop the lawsuit and additional legal fees," said Newport-Mesa Trustee Katrina Foley. "The only reason we looked at the agreements again was to stop the bleeding."

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