Fourteen students at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School were suspended this week after school officials discovered they had been involved in a break-in of the campus counseling office to change their first-semester transcripts.
The students, who were not identified, included several seniors whose altered transcripts were later sent to universities, among them Harvard and Yale. Principal Kelly Johnson said the "majority of these kids would have no need to do this. They (are) good students."
The break-in, which occurred early last month at the hilltop school in Rolling Hills Estates, was discovered last week during a routine review of grade records, Johnson said Tuesday.
Michael Caston, superintendent of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, said school officials will contact the universities that received the altered transcripts and provide them with the correct information. He said it is possible those schools could deny admission to the students for falsifying their records.
But, he said, the district will not notify any schools the students may apply to in the future about what happened. Caston said he hoped the incident would not have any long-term impact on the students.
"It's a one-time infraction of the rules, and they'll be punished for that," Caston said. The students were suspended for five days. Because the investigation is not yet complete, school officials declined to say what other disciplinary measures may be meted out to the students.
The high school, which serves 3,000 students in a wealthy community of professionals, has virtually no dropout rate, Caston said. About 92% of the school's graduating seniors enroll at four-year colleges or universities, he added.
In fact, some school officials speculated that parental expectations that their children will attend prestigious universities may have influenced the students to alter their grades.
"I really think that sometimes we put so much pressure on performance that we don't look at how kids obtain those goals," said Jeffrey N. Younggren , a district trustee who is a psychologist in Rolling Hills Estates. "I think this community emphasizes achievement so much that sometimes kids get confused about getting there and how they get there."
School trustees also said there were reports, yet to be confirmed, that some of the parents knew that their children had changed their grades and did nothing about it.
"It's certainly a failing of some segment of our society if (the message) is going out that grades are more important than honesty and integrity," said trustee Barry Hildebrand. "If that's what is going on, then we've really lost our focus on what the whole educational system is supposed to be all about."
Although authorities believe only a small number of students actually entered the counseling office to change the records, all of the 14 suspended students either knew about it or helped plan it, Johnson said. The students, who broke a lock to enter the office, improved their grades on handwritten records that school counselors later entered into the computer system, he said.
District policy outlines a range of punishments for grade tampering that includes five-day suspensions, after-school detention and removal from honor societies, Caston said. But, he added, none of the students face expulsion from the district.
"You don't punish people forever," Caston said. "They're kids, they made a mistake and we want them to learn from it, to become better as a result of what happened . . . and hopefully, they won't do it again."