Fulton student hacked system, changed grades

A high school student breached a Fulton County school’s computer system and changed the grades of 15 students, according to education officials.

The Westlake High School student, a senior whose name was not released by school officials, admitted to changing the grades over the Christmas holiday break and has been suspended, according to Fulton County school system spokeswoman Susan Hale.

“Based on interviews with the student, we believe he gained access to an employee’s computer and used that person’s password to enter the school’s grading system,” Hale said in a released statement. “We have no evidence to suggest the staff member knew that the account was accessed.”

The school located in South Fulton has been in contact with all families of the students involved, and in “situations where there was credible evidence that they knew of their grade change, disciplinary action was taken,” Hale said.

Teachers at the school verified their records against the grading system to be sure grades are now accurate. They have changed any altered grades back to the original. School officials declined to say what position the employee held at the school, but noted the person had access to student grades.

Grant Rivera, principal at Westlake, which has close to 1,800 students, said a teacher recently noticed the grade changes and alerted school officials. He said the student made the changes to the grades between Dec. 17 and Jan. 7. The changes were made for 15 students in 21 classes, Rivera said.

“If you know the person’s (employee) email address and you know the person’s password, it really is not a whole lot different then you and me accessing our bank statements or online bank accounts,” Rivera said in describing the school computer system.

“Normally there’s a pattern in Fulton County….where we have to change passwords at regular intervals. This young man was able to get the password, and then we went in and pulled the IT report and verified not only when the grades were changed but exactly what courses and for what students.”

Rivera called the cheating “unfortunate” and “embarrassing” and said officials need to do a better job of changing passwords regularly so future incidents like this do not occur.

Hale, the school system spokeswoman, said the incident is “unique” and doesn’t indicate the school district’s computer system is not well equipped to prevent such cheating.

“It’s not as likely that this would happen again because of the uniqueness of the situation,” she said.