By Dan Roman
Thirteen Kutztown Area High School students are facing felony charges
for tampering with district-issued laptop computers.
According to parent testimony and confirmed by an otherwise
vaguely-worded letter from the Kutztown Police Department, students
got hold of the system's secret administrative password and
reconfigured their computers to achieve greater Internet and network
Some students used the newfound freedom to download music and
inappropriate images from the Internet.
James Shrawder spoke on behalf of a group of parents of six of the
accused at a June 20 school board meeting. He said the administration
may have railroaded the process by not providing authorities with the
"That's absurd," Superintendent Brenda S. Winkler said after the board
meeting, in response to Shrawder's allegations that the administration
withheld information until the end of the school year.
Shrawder asked that the school board act in order to reverse the
damage done by the administration.
Shrawder said the secret password "50Trexler," was widely-known among
the student body and distributed early in the school year. It allowed
between 80 and 100 students to reconfigure their laptops, he said.
The more computer-savvy students began to disable the administrations'
ability to spy on the students' computer use. For others, it became a
game, trying to outsmart the administration and compete with fellow
students who held the secret, Shrawder said.
"I don't know why this is such a big deal," he said. "At no time was
the security of the server breached, and I don't know that it has cost
the taxpayers any money."
Winkler agreed that the server, where grades and other private records
are stored, was never threatened.
Shrawder acknowledged that the students broke school rules, but he and
the other parents protested what they believe is the heavy-handed
approach to the problem.
Most of the students accused were freshmen, but a few were sophomores
and juniors. None of the accused were seniors.
Parents also worried that a felony conviction would permanently damage
their child's record for an infraction that may otherwise have
resulted in a grounding if it were discovered by a parent.
"I don't think they knew what this could do to their future," said
LeAnn Shoemaker, a parent of one of the accused.
Her 15-year-old son John, who will be a sophomore next fall, agreed.
"I knew it was against school policy," he said. "But I didn't know it
was a felony."
Winkler said the administration could not comment on student
"We continue to collaborate with police," she said.
She also noted that charges have not been formally issued and could
not comment on the perceived harsh penalty.
School Board President Don C. Vymazal said he sympathized with the
"They are concerned and we would be too," he said.
For the moment, parents were uncertain how to react to the threat of
charges against their children. Paperwork is hung up in county
juvenile court system and the only indication of the charges is the
letter sent to parents and signed by Officer Walter J. Skavinsky of
the Kutztown Police Department.
The Skavinsky letter, dated May 31, says the police were contacted on
May 2 by members of the high school staff. An investigation found that
13 students had violated the school's permitted use policy and gained
greater access to the school's Internet and intranet resources.
Skavinsky consulted with the Berks County District Attorney's office
and recommended charges of "Computer Trespass," in violation of PA
criminal code section 7615, which carries a third degree felony
The letter tells parents that juveniles charged with a crime "must
present themselves in a timely manner to the arresting police
department for the purposes of fingerprinting and identification."
The iBook laptops were issued to all high school students last fall in
an experimental program with Apple computers.
The program will cost up to $900,000 over the next four years.
Winkler reaffirmed the district's commitment to the program saying it
has been "a learning experience."
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