Darien school cheating scheme heads toward legal fight

DARIEN — The family of one of the teens accused of cheating on Darien High School’s exams has hired an attorney to investigate and possibly challenge the school district’s handling of the penalties for his client.

Darien Schools Superintendent Alan Addley said several students entered the Language Arts and Social Studies faculty offices and copied the answers to the multiple-choice portions of those exams.

“It was determined that these answers were widely disseminated through social media,” Addley said, adding that up to 280 to 300 students could have been impacted.

“The pervasiveness and issues of fairness” of the incident led the administration to believe the “most reasonable action is to re-administer the multiple-choice parts of the exam,” he said.

Addley said this is consistent with practices of other standardized tests such as the SAT and AP exams, though several parents objected.

Mark Sherman, a Stamford attorney hired by one of the families whose 16-year-old son was implicated in the scheme, said the punishment imposed by the school included a range from retaking the exam to suspension.

“While the district showed measured discretion and compassion in setting the punishment ceiling for the accused students, we are looking into the disparate treatment of these students, especially in the context of federally mandated due process accommodations that should be considered,” Sherman said.

Sherman said he will examine whether the punishment was appropriate and was “fair and equitable in the context of penalties meted out to other similarly situated students received in this dumpster fire of a discipline process.”

“I also want to reassure that among these deliberations, the administration has been reflective and considered the integrity, fairness, disruption, stress and reasonableness,” Addley said at a recent Board of Education meeting that was attended by more than 100 people.

Addley said the “needs of all the students, including the students that violated the academic policy were taken into consideration.”

Many parents objected to the retaking of exams, which were administered last week.

Addley said the multiple-choice answers for World Studies and English exams were breached and “widely distributed” to the sophomore class, compromising the exams’ integrity.

Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman said his panel does not handle student discipline and “does not determine or govern the day-to-day runnings of the school.” However, “given the level of concern” Ohman said the board opted to hear a report about what happened and to allow the public to speak during a meeting this month.

One parent said her son who is a sophomore worked hard to study for the two exams and was “more of a math and science kid.”

“These two midterms were the ones he stressed about the most, and when they were done, he felt a weight had been lifted off him,” she said.

Re-administering the tests “nearly a month” after the initial tests, while also interfering with other classwork “is not an acceptable solution,” she said.

She pointed out that the high school handbook does not cite a retesting policy for students who have been accused of dishonesty, let alone a student not accused. She also said there were a lot of rumors about what happened and the punishment.

“The only way to dispel those rumors is for the administration to tell us exactly what happened and what the punishment was for those students,” she said.

“This can be done without identifying them. I think you owe it to the students who were affected and the students who honestly studied for those exams,” she said.

Another parent pointed out the event leading up to the answers being disseminated was “breaking and entering.”

“If someone punches someone in the hallway, or does something illegal, is that not grounds for expulsion? Why is this not grounds for expulsion for the students involved?” he asked.

Pace Flaherty, one of the students who spoke, said he created a petition to “hold the Darien public school system more accountable for violations of academic integrity.” The petition received more than 276 signatures in 72 hours.

“A lot of students in my grade and in the school are feeling like the students got away with these acts with a slap on the wrist,” he said. “And that is very insulting to us as we have to retake our midterms, which also sounds like a consequence that has fallen onto us.”