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50 students investigated for altering grades

Posted at 1:10 PM, May 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 01:29:43-04

Tucson High School administrators are investigating 50 students accused of tampering with grades.

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent, HT Sanchez, says this is the largest cheating scandal in recent memory.

"In my three years here, this is the largest one we've faced," said Sanchez.

A majority of the 50 students are seniors and Sanchez said those students will not be allowed to walk at graduation next week. They must re-take the class over the summer and will graduate afterwards.

The few juniors involved must also re-take the class, but could not elaborate on other punishment. 

"The students are facing the ultimate consequence. Their parents may have sent out graduation invitations, they're planning parties, but the students will not graduate. They have to take the class, they have to pass it the right way, academic intolerance will not be tolerated," said Sanchez.

How did they do it? It's fairly simple.

The superintendent says students watched the teacher log into her computer, mimicked her keystrokes, and were able to learn her password. Those students logged on as the teacher and altered grades according to the district.

"This is more unusual that what you would find in a regular year," said Sanchez about the students' method.

The school district says those students then charged other kids to change their grades for them.

"They would pay him $50 per semester," said German Lerma, a senior.

Lerma says he heard about this as far back as February. Some of the students involved were within a half-credit of graduation. Lerma says it's disappointing for this to come out with ceremonies next week.

"Coming in freshman year with over 1,000 students and now 700, and not being told another 50 are not going to be able to walk with us," Lerma said.

TUSD learned about the cheating when the teacher noticed grades did not match up and log-in times to her computer were not correct. Sanchez says she notified the principal on Thursday and they began the investigation.

"We'll take a look at some of our processes when it comes to the frequency when we change passwords so perhaps instead of every quarter, maybe we look at every couple of weeks when the log-in password is updated or changed," said the superintendent.

Sanchez says the district is working with their legal department to determine whether this is an issue of school discipline or a legal matter. He says this is not a hack in the popular sense of the word, but rather someone changing a grade.

"We treat this in the same way, if you will, as a student who finds a teacher's grade book, erases it and puts a better grade for himself and hopes the teacher doesn't catch it. That's the equivalent of what we are looking at," Sanchez said.

TUSD board member Michael Hicks says he had no knowledge of this cheating scandal till it came out on the news.

"This board member never hears anything till far after things have hit the news," said Hicks.

He says in this case, the school board should have been notified earlier.

Hicks also disagrees with how the district is handling discipline. He says this cheating scandal is more than just a student changing their grade on a test and law enforcement should be involved. 

"They were orchestrating, it was well organized, they were charging money for it. They need to be held accountable," said Hicks.