More than 30 Dixon High School students had their grades changed over a span of four months, with some allegedly paying a student hacker for the deed, police and school officials said Friday.
Three students have been suspended from the school so far, including the alleged hacker, Juan Ambriz, 18, who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of alteration of a computer database. The felony charge means Ambriz could face imprisonment and fines, according to Dixon Police Chief Jon Cox.
During a Friday news conference, school and police officials expressed dismay over the scheme that was first discovered by a teacher on Tuesday. Brian Dolan, superintendent of the Dixon Unified School District, vowed to bring the cheating students to justice and called the situation “distressing.”
“This is a betrayal … of the trust that our staff has placed in students,” said Dolan.
Preliminary evidence suggests that 200 grade changes were made for nine teachers’ grade books. The alterations, Dolan said, were “pretty thoughtful and careful,” to appear less noticeable.
School and police officials said Ambriz confessed to the hacking Wednesday and is cooperative. They declined to reveal how Ambriz gained access to the school’s grading system.
Ambriz was booked Wednesday into Solano County jail and released on $15,000 bail. He is to be charged as an adult.
Dolan said the school district is conducting a thorough investigation and that any disciplinary actions for the 32 students involved could range from nothing to criminal charges and expulsion. Some could also have their diplomas withheld.
He said the students fell into three categories – students who knowingly participated; those who knew but had no active role in changing the grades; and a third group who did not know about, or ask for, grade changes.
Dolan said parents of the students involved want to ensure their children are treated fairly and that rulings on their involvement and any discipline will be made in time for graduation.
“The lingering question is, ‘What’s going to happen to my child now?’ ” Dolan said.
Nabil Ajam, 18, knew Ambriz from a computer class during freshman year. Ajam described the suspect as a “nice guy” who was “tech savvy.”
“I was surprised he would do something like this,” Ajam said.
IT experts were able to identify the IP address of the computer used to change grades. It was verified that the address was not that of a district computer. Police said they confiscated a personal computer owned by Ambriz.
School officials acknowledged the shortcomings in the computer network and are reviewing security measures. But, Dolan said, “even the best defenses can be beaten.”
Bee Staff Writer Bill Lindelof contributed to this report.