In an internal email that quickly went public, a top Newport-Mesa Unified School District official accused school and district administrators of mishandling the cheating scandal at Corona del Mar High.
Jane Garland, who is in charge of discipline for the district, called the situation and investigation a "total farce" in an email dated Jan. 24.
"NMUSD should be ashamed of the staff mishandling of this entire situation," she wrote in the missive, which the Daily Pilot acquired Wednesday.
Citing student confidentiality, district spokeswoman Laura Boss declined to comment on Garland's allegations.
Eleven CdM students were expelled from the high school last month for allegedly attaching keylogging devices to several teachers' computers to swipe logins and passwords, apparently with the help of a private tutor, according to the district.
With the recorded information, the students allegedly changed grades and accessed exams, some at the honors and Advanced Placement levels.
Parents and Garland assert that each of the 11 students had varying levels of involvement in the scandal. In some cases, the extent of the students' participation was previewing test questions during tutoring sessions.
Other students admitted to breaking into the school to place the keyloggers on computers or even driving other students to the school to assist with the break-ins, sources say.
However, Garland argued in her email to the school board that the evidence against many of the children was thin.
"Other than the students who implicated themselves — the district has no evidence who keylogged, who broke into the school, who had only knowledge," Garland wrote. "And yet all are receiving the same punishments."
CdM Principal Kathy Scott suggested in early January that the district begin the expulsion process.
After that, district officials, including Garland, met with the students and their families to reach agreements about potential discipline. Garland drafted stipulated expulsion agreements with the families and sent them to the board for approval.
"I tried to get each family the best that I could or they would have had to go before a three-administrator panel, and I was quite sure they would then be expelled out of the district," Garland wrote Tuesday in an email to the Daily Pilot.
On Jan. 29, school district trustees approved the stipulated expulsion agreements, which forbid the 11 students from returning to CdM but allow them to transfer to another high school in the district.
Six of the 11 students had already left the district by the time the school board approved the agreements.
The agreements allow the district to bypass hearings where officials would be required to provide evidence of the students' cheating and allow them to respond. The parents also agreed not to challenge the punishments in court.
When news of the scandal broke in December, district officials said a dozen students were involved in the grade-changing scheme. However, only 11 were expelled.
In the email, Garland questions why the 12th student was allowed to return to CdM without punishment, suggesting that one of the student's parents was influential on campus.
The district's reasoning is that officials didn't have enough evidence to expel the student, she wrote in the email, suggesting that she didn't buy the argument.
Parents, in letters to district officials, allege that the cheating extends much further than the dozen accused. Timothy Lance Lai of Irvine was allegedly tutoring more than 150 CdM teens, and according to Garland's email, each of them had some involvement in the scheme.