Dozens of Hacked Computers Stolen, Police Investigating

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA., Dec. 16, 2009 – Only days after district officials launched an investigation of students hacking into Broward schools’ Apex grading system, police have been summoned by Seagull School to investigate the theft of 33 computers used by students to access the program and change grades.

BTU President Pat Santeramo said details of the alleged break-in and theft are preliminary, but according to school employees who wish to remain anonymous, officers with the district’s Special Investigations Unit arrived at the school this morning. According to employees, the officers discovered two portable classrooms that housed computers used in the Apex program were broken into most likely through forced entry.

“After the district’s auditing department reported missing $14 million in equipment including computers, taxpayers probably thought Superintendent Jim Notter took measures to increase security,” Santeramo said. “Of course, those kinds of changes only take place in school systems where the school board holds the superintendent accountable instead of giving him freehand to waste millions of tax dollars while crying poor.”

Employees report that the break-in may be a coincidence to the recently reported hacking incident at the school, but the same computers used by students to change grades were stolen. The employees report that the computers were kept in portables that do not have alarms. After forcing their way into buildings, the thieves cut locks from the carts housing the laptop computers. They allegedly only took the program’s laptops, leaving behind more valuable desktop computers, modems and printers.

The employees state the buildings had three to four security video cameras trained on them. Investigators are at the school this morning reviewing the security tapes.

“Sadly, this event makes an already bad situation even worse. Parents and community members rightfully can only stand back and shake their heads as one district embarrassment after another occurs under Superintendent Notter’s watch,” Santeramo said.

Last week, BTU President Pat Santeramo reported that students at Seagull and several other Broward schools hacked into the school system’s APEX course credit recovery and computer grading program. It appears once students hacked into the system using easy to decipher user identification and temporary initial passwords. Once, they gained access to the APEX’s management system and all teacher passwords at each site. The students allegedly began selling access to the district computer system for as much as $100.

Districts such as Broward schools use Apex Learning digital curriculum to meet the needs of hundreds, if not more than a thousand, traditional and adult students whose needs range from course credit recovery to original classwork credit through individualized distance learning or classroom computer-based instructional programs. The computer program gives students the ability to move at their own pace by allowing them to take as much — or as little — time as they need to master the material.

However, it became clear to employees something went terribly wrong when students started receiving grades at a pace that would be impossible for them to complete the course work. It was then that the employees discovered students appeared to have “hacked” into the system and were manually entering grades into the program’s management system without having completed the work.

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