HIGH SCHOOL HACKERS

CHS has always been known for its stellar academics, hardworking students and dedicated teachers, but now it’s known for something else as well: cheating.

The Incident

According to a Feb. 3 Gazette article, students used a program run off a portable USB device to uncover teachers’ passwords to the school grading system. Students and parents were notified of this event through a Jan. 27 phone call from Principal Joan Benz.

Although the identities and consequences of the specific students must remain confidential because all participating parties are minors, according to a Feb. 5 letter home to parents, disciplinary action has already been taken against seven of the students who were involved in this incident.

“We have an ongoing investigation and consequences have already been applied,” Benz said.

The administration and teachers worked to verify and correct all students’ grades in the past few weeks.

According to Benz, administration and teachers were able to uncover the number of abuse instances because the grade manipulation took place on the CHS computer database.

Benz will be holding a community meeting March 8 at 7 p.m. where she will be available to answer community questions.

The Colleges

Many CHS students are now left wondering what colleges will think of CHS after this incident.

“I don’t think this will affect [uninvolved students] with their admission to any university,” said Tracy Mitrano, director of IT policy at Cornell University. “A [university] would never assume based on one individual the legitimacy of an institution. Sometimes behavior does not reflect on an institutions’ citizenship unless it is repeated and there are not any steps to stop it.”

George Mason University Dean of Admissions Andrew Flagel also agrees that universities will not allow this incident to impact CHS’s strong reputation.

“CHS is an outstanding school,” Flagel said. “While I’m sure this incident may be remembered by a handful of admissions officers, I think it’s likely that most won’t remember by next year where the incident occurred.”

According to Benz, CHS will be in touch with colleges to confirm the validity of student’s grades.

“Colleges will trust that CHS will validate all of the grades,” Benz said. “Our reputation was always very good and the integrity of the school will be in place.”

Senior Alex Giedd, who will be attending Duke University next year, does not think this will affect her admission but thinks it may affect others.

“A friend of mine who will be attending Maryland next year received an e-mail from the college [track] coach asking her about the incident,” Giedd said. “She was not part of the cheating scandal, but it goes to show that news spreads fast.”

The Prevention

The administration and teachers have been working to ensure a security breach like this will not happen again.

“As soon as we [finish] the first levels of investigation, we will be doing the preventative measures of this operation,” Benz said.

The MCPS staff as a whole has been asked to change their computer passwords as one preventative measure.

The Reasons

While some wonder about how this happened, the most important question should be why this happened.

“In today’s world, high school and college are very demanding,” Mitrano said. “There is a lot of pressure these days.”

Giedd believes that while overall CHS is a good school, there will always be cheaters and people who break the rules.

“One good and bad aspect of CHS is that students seem to be obsessed with doing well,” Giedd said.  “[This] can have negative consequences when students turn to cheating and grade hacking to attain the results they want to see.”

While senior Aishni Thiyagarajan believes that she puts the most pressure on herself to do well, Gorgei thinks that teachers add to the high-stress environment of high school.

“Teachers expect so much out of the students and expect perfection,” Gorgei said. “Even from freshman year teachers are focused on college.”

Just as most colleges have not changed their opinion of CHS, most students have not either.

“I wouldn’t say my perception of Churchill as a whole as changed,” senior Peggy Li said.  “It would be completely unfair and wrong to blame [the] administration, or the teachers or the overall student population for something that several [students] did.”

While students believe that the incident may stay with CHS for a few years, it will hopefully not be the sole reason people remember the school.

“In 2020 when a CHS student is featured in the news, I highly doubt newspapers will add ‘CHS experienced a student grade-hacking incident in 2010’ at the end,” senior Peggy Li said.