Student's transcript change sparks probe

No evidence so far that others participated, but investigation is ongoing

Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are reviewing changes in transcripts for all members of the class of 2014 after a Paly student was found to have gained online access to alter a transcript, the Palo Alto school district said Thursday.

The student gained access by using a staff member's password.

"There was an issue at Paly involving an individual student gaining access to their own transcript and making changes," the district said in a statement responding to an inquiry.

The district said it took "appropriate action" in imposing consequence to the student, "including notification to the appropriate educational institutions."

While a "complete investigation" is ongoing, "at this time, no evidence has been found that other students are involved," the district said. "If future issues are found, staff will inform colleges as needed."

The statement also said the district's information system "was not breached and remains secure."

District Communications Coordinator Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley said community members with further concerns may contact her at 650-329-3746.

Chris Kenrick


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Posted by Thanks Weekly!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:39 am

Good luck to the EPA with it's new [portion removed] Ann Dunkin. What other horrifying messes will the Mitchell school board's lack of oversight leave parents to clean up. The kid had a password and entered the system. The idea that it ""was not breached and remains secure." is BIZARRE since the story is about how the system was 'breached" and was not "secure." We got more honesty and transparency from Target.

Weekly: please do not reprint press releases written by Tabitha. This story should say "Tabitha claimed that the system was 'secure' however her statement also admitted that a student had access to the entire system though the teacher's login. [Portion removed.]"

Please please stop printing press releases.

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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:44 am

The statement also said the district's information system "was not breached and remains secure." Ok, I feel better now.

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Posted by This sounds like a massive coverup
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:05 am

I'll bet if someone went out and interviewed a handful of students you would get more information than is provided in the district's release.

Just look at the other posts in town square.

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Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:06 am

How do we know what they are checking?

They should send each family a confirmation with the grades of their student, so that the student can sign off on their grades because the hacking could have maliciously hurt other students.

Can one verify what information colleges are receiving?

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Posted by captn crunch
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:41 am

@Thanks Weekly,
You leave your pin number for your debit card for someone to find and they use it to access your account and withdraw money. Your response to this is "the bank's system isn't secure" instead of "why was I so stupid to leave my pin where someone could find/guess it". The banks security wasn't breached, you screwed up. Fortunately banks tend to take your stupidity into account and restore unauthorized withdrawals to your account.

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Posted by Mayfield
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

I feel so sad to hear this kind of news. There are more things in life than just going to a good college. Some people at my company do not even have a college degree and they have people graduating from Ivy League schools reporting to them.

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Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:52 am

Given how little information there is in this article—got to wonder:

How exactly did the student obtain the password to the system where transcripts are kept?
Was the password given to her by a teacher? Or an office worker? Or possibly a maintenance worker?
Is accessing a school records data system a violation of state law?
Is accessing any computer system a violation of Federal law?
How did the District become aware of this breach in an otherwise secure computer system?
Is there an access log maintained for every access of the system?
Can anyone who has access to the system change any record, without any sort of authorization beyond a simple password?
When is the last time the PAUSD has conducted a security audit of its computer network?
What is going to happen to the staff member whose password was somehow acquired by this student?
Why isn’t an unauthorized access to any school computer system a act worthy of expulsion.

It’s a shame that this sort of information is not made public—by the School District, or the Weekly.

So—got to wonder?

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Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm

The same problem happened a few years ago at Gunn. A student who was teacher's helper, got the login/password of a teacher and changed his/her grade. The problem was that the teacher posted his/her password as a sticker on the monitor or somewhere on the desk. The incident was not reported widely as this one, but many Gunn students knew it. Not sure what was the punishment. I heard the whole story from my son at that time. I think that PAUSD should ask all teachers to secure their login credentials, not post it at an obvious place in the office. If this kind of incident happened in our company, the person who break the security rule is fired, no question.

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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Former Gunn Parent: You can't fire teachers. Just ask their union.

Anyone remember the old movie "Wargames"? The kid got sent to the office and used his time there to open a desk drawer for the password list. That movie was made in, what, the 1980's? The hacking technique was in a movie that long ago. And the teacher here still "advertised" the password? As Forrest Gump would say "Stupid is as stupid does."

But no, you can't fire them, sorry.

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Posted by teacher
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm

As a teacher in the community teacher assistants should not be ANYWHERE near your desk, grading papers, or privy to student information. They should be doing things like running copies. This is baffling.

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Posted by Rez
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Lol, I was going to mention War Games too. Matthew Broderick was at it again in Ferris Bueller. Those bad influence '80's movies!

Seriously though, in this day and age there should be more levels of security. For instance, major changes to grades in the system could send a back-up email to the teacher, just as is done with password changes on websites.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Lots of excuses and some of good suggestions here also. Especially from "Question" who suggests that this student might have also changed the records of other students (either up or downwards).

But the bottom line is that the student alone broke into the system and changed the data -- no one forced him/her to commit this act (which is a crime btw). It was his/her decision, and there should be consequences.

The student should be expelled immediately. This being Palo Alto probably that won't happen. And, we can all wonder if he/she will break into our bank accounts next.

For now, let's hope the school staff does indeed follow through on notifying all the colleges the student applied to.

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Posted by PAUSD Famous Again!
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 22, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Skelly modeled dihonest behavior to get our of troubles. This student is just doing what he did, do whatever it takes to get good reviews, grades etc. Let's not blame the parents but the schools for putting so much pressure on our kids to have good grades. Way to go! now PAUSD will be even more famous, with our smart and genious students, and teachers who give the passwords to aides to do the grading for them.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Skelly has nothing to do with this. The student is responsible for his/her OWN behavior. Also, absolving the parents is not possible -- their expectations for their kids' success throughout their childhoods are a huge part of the problem, and the parents bizarre intervention/pressures on the teachers/school management is part of the story as well.

No one made the student cheat. The student made a very bad decision. Hopefully he/she will learn a life lesson here.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 23, 2014 at 8:29 am

Teaching assistants grade papers all the time at Gunn. In one outrageous instance my student was in a class whose grader was a student who had had to drop that exact same class the year before because they were not passing it. The chemistry teacher who allowed it is highly regarded by some people. Go figure.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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