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Ban Smart Phones in High Schools

Original post made by Annie, Evergreen Park, on Aug 30, 2013

The principal of Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City’s top public schools, mishandled the investigation into a large cheating operation there last year from the moment he was tipped off to it until state education officials became aware of it more than a week later, a city report issued on Friday said.
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Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Stanley Teitel
The principal, Stanley Teitel, retired last summer, while the city’s Education Department was investigating his handling of the cheating, which involved more than 60 students using smartphones to receive answers for standardized city and state tests.

The report, issued by the department’s Office of Special Investigations, said that after Mr. Teitel was tipped off by a student about the cheating, he set up a sting operation to catch the ringleader when he should have tried to pre-emptively thwart the cheating, including by enforcing the citywide ban on phones inside schools.

The report said that Mr. Teitel and an assistant principal, Randi Damesek, took too long to question students involved and did not report the cheating to state officials until eight days after catching the lead student, when reporters began inquiring about what had happened.

“It is the conclusion of this office that due to a lack of foresight, candor and professional judgment, Mr. Teitel and Ms. Damesek failed to efficiently and effectively carry out the administrative duties entrusted to them during their handling of the ‘cheating incident’ of June 2012,” the report said.

It recommended that Mr. Teitel be barred from future employment in city schools, and the Education Department will follow that recommendation, said Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman.

Mr. Teitel said on Friday that he had not seen yet the report and would not discuss its contents.

“No one sent me a copy of it,” he said, adding: “I am retired. I have been retired for over a year.”

Efforts to reach Ms. Damesek were unsuccessful. The Education Department will bring disciplinary charges against her and seek her firing “or, at the very minimum, a demotion,” Ms. Hughes said.

Besides its unflattering portrait of the leadership team at one of the most prestigious high schools in the country, the report also describes a 21st-century example of how students let others peek at their answers.

The ringleader, Nayeem Ahsan, referred to as “Student A” in the report, told investigators he used his iPhone to send answers to other students via text messages to “garner good will” among classmates, the report said, and perhaps get help from them in subjects he was weaker in. The number of students involved who received his texts “grew and grew,” according to Mr. Ahsan’s account in the report.

During the physics Regents exam, he told investigators, he waited until one proctor left the room and was replaced by a lax one who did not walk around. Eventually, she fell asleep, he said, and he began sending out answers. The proctor denied falling asleep.

On June 16, a student e-mailed Mr. Teitel to say that Mr. Ahsan had “electronically assisted” several students on Regents exams and was set to do so again, the report said. In reaction to that message, Mr. Teitel “showed an extreme lack of judgment,” it said. He set up a sting operation for a June 18 language exam, placing a reliable proctor to catch Mr. Ahsan in the act, the report said. When the proctor did so, he notified Mr. Teitel, who took Mr. Ahsan and his phone out of the room.

School staff members copied information from the phone to find out who else had been receiving answers. Shortly after Mr. Ahsan left, the information on his phone suddenly disappeared; he told school staff members that he had just suspended his phone service, which they did not believe, the report said.

Mr. Teitel told Mr. Ahsan and his father, “There’s no way I’m keeping him” at Stuyvesant, and told them to request a safety-related transfer to another school, which they reluctantly did, but education officials rejected it, saying his safety was not truly in jeopardy.

Dozens of students were suspended for several days and had to retake exams. Nayeem Ahsan spent his senior year at Forest Hills High School in Queens, and graduated two months ago, officials said.

Though the report is dated Nov. 5, its release was delayed nearly 10 months, until Friday, “because there were allegations of a ‘culture of cheating’ ” at Stuyvesant, Ms. Hughes said.

“We kept the investigation open and monitored until the end of the school year,” Ms. Hughes said. “No further evidence was presented that warranted a change in the report, so the report was issued as is.”


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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 30, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Headline is all wrong. Students are not allowed to have cell phones out during exams. Most do not use their cell phones during class. Cell phone usage is allowed during non-class time, which is reasonable because it gives students a chance to relax. Some teachers use cell phones for instruction and communication. We don't have any issues with cell phone abuse at Paly.

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Posted by Sarah Togo
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 31, 2013 at 11:22 am

We used to live in another community near Los Gatos, and the cheating via cell phones at that local high school was rampant. It concluded in a big scandal just about four years ago, quite similar to the one at Stuyvesant (Peter Stuyvesant is churning in his grave). Unfortunately, it involved foreign-born children and children of foreign-born parents even more than native-born children.

This is a high-pressure school, like Stuyvesant, and there are always more cheating issues at such schools, public or private. In the local case, though, the pressure was from the parents far, far more than from the high school itself.

Cell phones were just an easy, discreet enabler. Take them away and these over-pressured kids will find another way.

I suspect there are many cheating cases that go undetected due to the hide-ability of smart phones.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2013 at 12:08 pm

The problem is the cheating, not the phones.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Agree that cheating is going to be done with or without smart phones.

Banning the phones or demanding that they are put in a box at the front of the room doesn't mean to say that there will be no phones in a classroom. It is not uncommon for someone to have more than one phone so that one could be shown to be turned off or put in a box in the front of the room, while the other phone is still being used in class or to cheat in a test.

There is a culture of cheating whereby if you get what you want by cheating it is ok and if you get caught, so what, it was for a noble reason. There is a good reason why is being used for homework. And it isn't just the kids who OK the cheating, but the parents too. They are even enabling their kids to do it.

Plagiarism, cheating in tests and exams are definitely occurring, as to how much in PAUSD, I'm not sure. If the cheaters are being caught then the schools are keeping mum and if they are getting away with it they are getting into the best schools and probably doing the same there.

I would like to see how it can be stopped, but banning the phones is not going to stop the cheaters.

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Posted by jake
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 31, 2013 at 8:30 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Other Paly Parent
a resident of Mayfield
on Aug 31, 2013 at 9:54 pm

@ jake

I am confused. Are you implying that foreign born parents managed to get into the US because they cheated? I find this offensive. I, for one, am a foreign born US citizen who did not resort to cheating to come into the US (or for much of anything else either). And there are many other immigrants who are honest. Please, do not lump all immigrants together. Also, I am aware of students who have cheated in school who were born in non immigrant families. So...