Sophomores steal midterm

Chronicle Staff

The permanent expulsion of six sophomores and the temporary suspension or detention of more than a dozen more for cheating on the Spanish III and World and Europe II midterms elicited an all-school assembly Feb. 26 and national media attention on Feb. 27.

The history test was stolen, copied and returned. Two students, one of whom had already conspired to steal the history midterm, later stole the Spanish midterm when they found a classroom unlocked the day of the Spanish final. The two took the test, made a copy in the library and returned it.

Students who stole a test were expelled, Head Prefect Wesley Yip ’08 said. The longest suspensions were for handling a test, with shorter suspensions for students who heard advance information. Students who benefitted from advance knowledge of one or more exams received a zero on those tests.

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts announced the punishments at the assembly, saying, “It’s stunning. It’s unprecedented. It’s shameful.”

On Feb. 8, a senior told a history teacher that tests had been circulated, Head of the History Department Katherine Holmes-Chuba said. Investigations began, and some students turned themselves in. Only during the Honor Board hearings about the history midterm was it learned that the Spanish exam had been compromised as well, Head Prefect Tasia Smith ’08 said.

Members of the Honor Board missed Feb. 20 classes in order to hear the cases. Half heard cases of the students indicated as distributors or thieves, while the other half listened to cases of students more loosely involved. There was no penalty for not giving up a name, “but it did tinge the decision, because how much can we believe if you don’t want to tell us anything?” Yip said.

Both head prefects said the hearings were emotional, aggravated by students’ lies about the amount of cheating that had occurred. When the last student questioned by Smith’s board revealed that a second test had been stolen, a faculty member and another Prefect burst into tears, Smith said.

“We never got a clear picture of events,” Smith said. “They all had differing stories, hiding events and names to protect others unknown.”

Smith was particularly disturbed by a remorseful student who insisted he had not distributed and had no knowledge of other thefts. Two days later, the student was back, after having been named as a distributor and as receiving help on the Spanish exam as well.

Huybrects and President Tom Hudnut e-mailed parents on Feb. 26 giving them notice that a story would appear in the Feb. 27 Los Angeles Times about the expulsions. Huybrechts said the situation, “gives us pause. So we will pause and reflect for a short while upon the shamefulness of it all.”

“An episode such as this inevitably receives attention and then dies down,” Hudnut wrote in his letter. “The key for us, as educators and parents, is for it not just to go away. Rather, we must capitalize on it and emphasize what we really think is important.”

Huybrechts later said it was “unfortunate” that the incident received national media attention, adding, “these are only 16-year-olds.”

Hudnut felt it was important to be candid with the press and, as a result, believes the press was rather positive.

“They kept emphasizing the fact that the school has such high standards,” he said. “That speaks to the credit of the school and had the overall effect of burnishing the school’s reputation instead of tarnishing it.”