Berkeley High School: center of a student-orchestrated attendance scam. Photo: Lance Knobel

Update 7:00 p.m. Berkeley High principal Pasquale Scuderi has replied by email to Berkeleyside to say that 32 suspensions have been issued so far and two students are being considered for expulsion. “The remaining students appeared to be minimally and peripherally involved and alternative forms of consequences are being considered for those students,” he wrote.

Scuderi wrote that the attendance irregularities were discovered in late December and changes were found dating back to October. The next 8-10 weeks were spent following the paper trails and “working with district staff to locate the computers, passwords, and patterns that allowed us to locate and identify those students involved”.

According to Scuderi, there is no evidence “at this time” that any component of PowerSchool (which is used for both attendance and grades), other than the attendance portal was accessed.

Once the irregularities were discovered, Scuderi wrote, the average daily attendance figures that the school releases were corrected. “We are pleased that despite this incident attendance appears to be on the rise at BHS,” he wrote.

“With a year-end audit pending, had our staff not discovered and addressed the issue and these issues then been discovered during an external attendance audit that may have cost the school tens of thousands of dollars on top of the numerous administrative hours that were already diverted from other more important instructional concerns to investigate,” he wrote.

Original story: Berkeley High administrators have uncovered systematic attendance fraud by a number of students, who have been suspended and may possibly be expelled. Four students are believed to have instigated the scam which involved, in some cases, selling absence clearances to around 50 students.

In an email to the BHS community last night, Berkeley High principal Pasquale Scuderi wrote that under new Dean of Attendance, Daniel Roose, attendance data is being “reviewed far more consistently and in greater depth than it has at Berkeley High School in recent memory”. Through that analysis, staff discovered that “several student accounts… appeared to have had inappropriate or unauthorized changes to their attendance records.”

Further investigation revealed that at least four students had obtained a staff member’s password to the database, PowerSchool. But the fraud didn’t stop there, according to Scuderi.

“As the investigation widened we had reasonable suspicion that approximately 50 students had unauthorized adjustments made to their records,” he wrote. “The degree of involvement ranged from what we now know was a few students literally selling the clearance of absences to those who may have accepted having a few absences or tardies cleared by a friend or acquaintance who gained access.”

Scuderi made a point in the email to the number of students involved represents roughly 1% of the school’s student population. “It … still is a vastly unacceptable number of kids who made regrettable decisions,” he wrote.

Scuderi said that “suspensions have been issued in most cases and a few students will be put up for expulsion”.

These actions have apparently attracted some criticism. “Some have questioned our use of suspension in this matter,” Scuderi wrote, “yet we see this altering of teacher and school record keeping as a level of dishonesty that violates our community agreements and expectations of our kids. When one violates our agreements and fails to meet our expectations to this extent we feel justified in issuing a consequence that temporarily revokes the privilege of that student being a part of the school community.

“Time off during a suspension certainly makes staying current in your classes more difficult and inconvenient, but we are convinced that it can be done. Students may have to work harder to stay in contact with teachers or friends in their classes to stay current during the suspension, and this is perhaps one of the chief lessons that we hope students involved will take away; namely, that when you make bad decisions in life they often yield inconvenient or difficult results and subsequently make it harder to meet obligations and responsibilities that you still have to meet.”

He further points out that in many non-school settings, the consequences would be profound: “Both the Education Code and the California Penal Code speak to this issue as an act of fraud and I hope that in the conversations that families have with students who were involved they come to a realization that were similar acts to be carried out on a job somewhere in the future, not only would dismissal be probable, but that those acts could also become part of a permanent record that could impact their ability to find quality employment for years to come and have a host of other negative consequences.”

In the same email, Scuderi announced that Berkeley High’s average daily attendance numbers for September through March had improved year-on-year from 92.43% of students to 93.98%. The administration has made improved attendance a major policy initiative, including the addition of a Dean of Attendance, Daniel Roose, to the staff.

Scuderi’s office today said the principal would not provide further comment on the incident at this time.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...