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Cheating scandal rocks Naperville Central High

Officials of Naperville School District 203 are dealing with an apparently significant instance of cheating at Naperville Central High School, involving a recently inaugurated program that allows students to supplement traditional classroom lessons and exercises with their wireless telephones and other electronic communication devices.

Principal Bill Wiesbrook on Friday sent a letter to Naperville Central parents that acknowledged cheating had occurred there late last month. Wiesbrook did not identify the classroom or classrooms in which the cheating occurred or the number of students who were involved in it.

Administrators routinely cite district privacy policies in refusing to discuss with professional media such academic issues as cheating or disciplinary actions taken against students or faculty members.

But Wiesbrook met Monday with reporters for the Central Times, Naperville Central’s student newspaper, “to explain the events of that day and (discuss) the actions taken by the school,” the newspaper reported. The meeting took place after administrators discovered “significant findings of academic dishonesty and, in at least one case, drug-related involvement” on the parts of students, according to the Central Times account.

A student on Nov. 28 told the teacher of an AP Macroeconomics course other pupils were cheating on a test or were about to do so, the newspaper reported Tuesday. The instructor took that information to the schools’ deans.

“AP Macroeconomics is a class that pilots the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ program,” according to the Central Times article. It “allows students to use their cell phones or other electronic devices to supplement classroom activities.”

Following the teacher’s report of possible cheating, the deans interviewed the accused students and confiscated their wireless telephones, Wiesbrook told the paper. They learned “through the admission of some of the students and through what they found on the cell phones” that cheating had occurred, he said.

The instructor on Monday told her students “there’s cheating, it’s more than one class, and it’s more than one test,” according to the Central Times narrative. The teacher lamented the cheating made the Bring Your Own Device program “look like the stupidest idea ever,” the article stated.

Wiesbrook said the accused students consented to having their phones examined. That “helped determine the level and range of the cheating, including how many courses were involved and what assignments had been cheated on,” the newspaper reported.

The account did not indicate how many students allegedly took part in the cheating. But Wiesbrook and Assistant Principal for Curriculum Jackie Thornton “confirmed rumors that had been circulating about possible photos of drug usage or text message communications” concerning narcotics abuse and transactions.

“At least one of the phones contained some drug-related information,” the paper quoted Wiesbrook as saying. “I cannot confirm or deny that this included photographs.”

Disciplinary action is to be “determined on a case-by-case basis,” according to the article. Thornton said while the incident “could impact college admissions for some of the students involved ... I think it’s too early to know.”

Wiesbrook’s letter to parents confirmed that “concerns about student cheating at Naperville Central were recently brought to the attention of school staff by other students.”

“We commend these students for taking the appropriate action when they observed behavior that was frustrating and wrong,” Wiesbrook’s letter read in part. “Reporting suspicions of cheating is a form of academic integrity,” which is “critical to the culture of any school, and one of the core values of NCHS and our district.”

“The ramifications of academic dishonesty extend beyond the content of a single test, the sharing of a ‘few answers’ or the copying of someone else’s words, which is the lesson we want all students to understand.”

Wiesbrook said he encouraged parents to discuss with their children “the importance of acting with integrity in all things. It is better to be honest and fall short of a goal than to take an unethical shortcut and reach a goal. The end is not more important than the path taken to reach the end.”

“Students caught violating the school disciplinary code will receive the appropriate consequence, but the long-term ramifications of the decision to cheat can extend far past a student’s days at Central,” Wiesbrook wrote. “This is an important message that should be communicated together.”

Susan E. Rice, the district’s director of communications, did not immediately respond to The Sun’s late Friday request to speak to Wiesbrook about the Bring Your Own Device program, and to have him comment on the content of the Central Times story.

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