Mom Hacks Into School Computer System, Changes Her Kids’ Grades

Helicopter parents be warned: this behavior could land you in prison

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Talk about helicopter parenting. It’s one thing to do your children’s homework for them. But when you decide to take matters into your own hands and change their grades yourself, well, that’s when law enforcement gets involved.

(MORE: Failing Student Forced to Wear Sign Broadcasting Bad Grades)

A Pennsylvania woman faces six felony charges for doing just that. Catherine Venusto, 45, hacked into the Northwestern Lehigh School District computer system and altered the grades of her two children, ABC News reports. Venusto had worked at the district as an administrative office secretary from 2008 through April, 2011. A year before she quit, Venusto, of New Tripoli, Penn., had been accused of changing her daughter’s failing grade to a medical exception. And in February, 2012, she was accused of changing her son’s 98 to a 99 to help him get a student scholarship and student loan.

Venusto was arraigned this week on three counts of unlawful use of a computer and three counts of computer trespassing and altering data. All six of those charges are third degree felonies. State police said she admitted to changing the grades, but thought her actions were merely unethical— not illegal. According to District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Debbie Garlicki, Venusto could face up to 42 years in prison or a $90,000 fine if convicted.

MORE: Behavior: Report Cards Can Hurt You

90 comments
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jakesyl
jakesyl

That's not hacking, she had the password 

zakidavid35
zakidavid35

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Abeer
Abeer

 42 years for just changing grades. O,o

Steve Matsukawa
Steve Matsukawa

I find it very amusing the continuing 'flame wars' over whether this scumbag hacked, cracked or used her own or someone else's credentials.  So much arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. 

The main thrust of the article is that this moron of a mother had to change her children's grades for whatever useless reasons she had.  Which is just plain wrong.

Steve Matsukawa
Steve Matsukawa

What kind of person would do something that is not only unethical but is illegal.  I bet this lady is a fine upstanding christian or catholic.  I know that this woman's behavior will be applauded by idiots and scumbags such as republicans and Penn State boosters and alumni.  This is what America is coming down to, how to scam the system.

LOL!  

theworldofmarla
theworldofmarla

Changed a 98 to a 99? I think her kids are smarter than she is. 

sam
sam

The punishment is very severe, 42 years... God! too much. 42 for 6 counts thats is 7 years for feach. Even I thought it would not be that much. I wonder how much punishment those professional hackers get when caught????

I believe the state should not be so severe, if she has a clean record, the state should show leniency. Afterall her purpose was not criminal. She was just being a caring "MOM" who would do anything for her children.

Dalek Caan
Dalek Caan

Watch her get 42 years and the Libor bankers get a payoff.

Harry Couture
Harry Couture

Seriusly 42 years for changing a 98 to 99?  What the fuck! people steal and kill and they get much less than that.

Frank
Frank

a 98 to a 99! seriously!

Joe Golden
Joe Golden

You can molest a child and get 2 years in prison.  But BEWARE! - If you change their grades you'll get 42 years!

varis
varis

42 years in prison? Was she sexually molesting her children while changing their grades?

RWFG
RWFG

One point!

She put her ass in jail for one lousy point. 

BitShare
BitShare

42 yrs, that is ridiculous. Hopefully she just gets community service and the kids aren't penalized too bad for their mother's actions.

AustinShea
AustinShea

Why does this article not discuss what is meant by the term "hack." 

Are we truly meant to believe that she was breaking the security systems put in place by massive technology companies?

Passwords in public schools tend to be very public, and are routinely re-used.

I think it's disingenuous to suggest that this person hacked their way into a system. 

If a computer system is a house, hacking's closest equivalent would be breaking-and-entering. If someone tells you their password, it's like being given a duplicated key.

She didn't break her way into anything.

AustinShea
AustinShea

Wow. Talk about a lack of understanding. 

She worked at the school, and is probably a sweet and innocent person. Why do I think that? She changed her child's grade by an objectively insignificant amount. I'm gonna bet that one point meant the world to her son, though.

Mothers that care this much, and are capable of raising grade A students, need NOT to have their innocence shattered by this judicial nonsense.

AustinShea
AustinShea

Wow. Talk about a lack of understanding. 

She works at the school, and is probably a sweet and innocent person. Why do I think that? She changed her child's grade by an objectively insignificant amount. I'm gonna bet that one point meant the world to her son, though.

Mothers that care this much, and are capable of raising grade A students, need NOT to have their innocence shattered by this judicial nonsense.

ComGenSupreme
ComGenSupreme

Our laws are designed to punish "big time", the little person, while the wealthy elite hire lawyers to make up these laws and they buy the votes that get them enacted. Welcome to America the ugly!

ComGenSupreme
ComGenSupreme

No, really, 42 years and 90K in fines for being a cheater. Yes, lets teach this "woman" a lesson, lets throw the book at her. Someone has to be held up to ridicule for the cheating they've done - this woman is a good target. It helps to avoid the debacle on Wall Street and Washington (think FDA and all the rest of the scum in DC), since "none" of them were charged with anything. I think this woman should pay the full price for all of their sins.

Please help me to stop vomiting....

DailyPUMA
DailyPUMA

"She thought her actions were unethical, not illegal". Hey, that excuse is reserved for John Edwards, politicians in general, and wall street financial terrorists.  For the rest of us, if its unethical, it is illegal.

clayt0njknight
clayt0njknight

It's not hacking if you have the password.

More hype-building bullshit...  And she won't do 42 years.  At most she'll do a year of probation.

wdg6731
wdg6731

I agree with the severity of the fine but don't believe this is an offense for which she should be jailed. If her children received any academic scholarships, they should also be rescinded. 

TR!4D
TR!4D

98 to 99? Why not go for the 100, justsayin :P

Lawrence Bujak
Lawrence Bujak

How to instill Christian Family Values…  Next she will say ‘god’ told her to do it.

bosco
bosco

I almost fell off my chair when I read this

"she admitted to changing the grades, but thought her actions were merely unethical— not illegal."

45 year old and it comes to this. People who engage in civil disobedience know they might be breaking the law but they did it because their morality dictates it

Mrs Venusto should know, her action was neither legal nor ethical. Worse, it is both a terrible example for her kids and may have serious repercussions with her "short-cut" approach... Just a little edge, like Enron, Madoff and PFGBest

Hiro
Hiro

I hope they just make her pay the $90,000 and put it to good use.  Putting her in jail for 42 years is just a massive waste of tax money.

Hamid Ashouri
Hamid Ashouri

She did what she supposed to do and I honor her courage to do so. I may do worse If I were in her shoes.

Gary B
Gary B

I don't know why she went to the trouble. All she had to do was ask someone in admin to change the grades. They do it all the time behind teachers' back, especially for top athletes, family, friends, et al. I'm still very curious about a student who failed my English class and absolutely had to have the English credit to graduate but graduated anyway. I inquired about it but was told it was not my business. Another teacher, an excellent teacher who was in her first year at this large mainstream school and without contract, was not offered a contract because she caught "the" top football player cheating and refused to change his grade in spite of the vice-principal's stern edict that "that's an administrative decision." US Schools are not about education; they're about feathering administrative career nests. End that and US education will start start to climb out of the awful pit that it's in. The US can't make the top 25 in education among developed countries worldwide. And it's not the teachers' fault! If it is, then who hired such awful teachers? Duh. The way out is to completely change school management. No decisions about students can be unilateral but must include the voices of all stakeholders (teachers, parents, students, support staff) from an administrative board (not to be confused with current "cosmetic" "needy-people" boards) that is selected by all stakeholders. Two year term limits for board members would be essential.  Principals and vice principals can be replaced by business managers and the secretaries who run schools anyway. Just look at the "beginning" of the savings to taxpayers whose children are being defrauded out of an education in a blisteringly competitive world.   

Amanda Johnson
Amanda Johnson

Okay, so one of the times she went to all that effort to change a 98 to a 99? I can't figure that one out. Unless maybe she used that time as a test to see if anyone would notice. Otherwise I don't know why she would even bother.

Jamie Gilchrist
Jamie Gilchrist

Does no one else find it strange that its either 42years or a $90,000  finelol...I mean thats a big difference.. is that the value thats placed on our time... Thats why the rich just use some vouchers and go free... I mean money is vouchers?? its just the shop is bigger!!  ;)

Talendria
Talendria

This poor woman is being railroaded.  In two years of snooping through the school's records, she only changed two grades, and in neither case was the change significant.  One grade went from a 98 to a 99, and another grade went from an F to a medically excused F.  It's not like she put an underachiever on the honor roll.

In addition, she didn't "hack" into the system.  In her capacity as the administrative secretary, she was responsible for setting up the superintendent's password.  After Ms. Venusto resigned, the superintendent failed to change the password.  It cracks me up when these executive types think they're too important to manage their own logins.

Ms. Venusto appears to have diminished mental capacity.  When asked to explain her actions, she claimed to be bored and curious.  She wasn't trying to finagle scholarships for her children.  She was just logging into a website because she could.  Clearly she needs to be punished in some fashion, but 42 years?  Rapists and murderers get less jail time.  At this point the school district hasn't identified anyone (other than her own children) who was harmed by Ms. Venusto's ill-conceived actions.

zakidavid35
zakidavid35

@Abeer  Abeer please help me.... teaxch me hw to hack in school system

dcx_2
dcx_2

 I don't think anyone is defending the woman.  From what I see, most people are wondering why she is facing down six *felonies* for doing this.  Does it really make sense that you could rape and kill someone and get out before this woman who changed grades on a computer?  Prison is not the answer for non-violent crimes like this.

zakidavid35
zakidavid35

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zakidavid35
zakidavid35

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Wu Ming
Wu Ming

She would do very well on Wall st. Goldman Sachs would snap her up in an instant as an executive.

sorgfelt
sorgfelt

 Teachers can be as autocratic and unreasonable as the administrators they complain about.  My son, in the middle of summer vacation, said that bullies were stealing his homework, causing him to have a bad final grade.  Since I had actually made sure that his homework was done, I complained to the teachers and they said my son could not find or misplaced the papers.  My son said that he once complained to a teacher that someone was stealing his papers, and she did not believe him.  He was also in a music program that unfortunately periodically takes him out of his regular classwork for practice.  The school policy is that the student must find out for himself the work to be made up by asking classmates.  The teachers themselves won't tell him what the work is. So, it is up to his relationship with classmates to determine whether or not he gets his work done, and, being a bit of an introvert, that isn't easy for him.  So, the education system is teaching him that life is tough and people and those in authority don't care.  I am not going to do anything unethical like changing grades behind a teacher's back, but would sure feel justified in doing so.

happy_noodle
happy_noodle

 Same problems here in France, with the private schools. Admin's decisions ALWAYS override the teachers' grades. It drives me up the wall!

calivianya
calivianya

 I thought that was strange, too. 42 years of my life would be worth a lot more than 90 grand!

bosco
bosco

Obviously the hacking law on the book does not have helicopter parents in mind; however, you post, like several others, seems to find all of the shades of grays. Certainly, there are all sort of miscarriage of justice, like throwing drug addicts in jail while drug kingpins walk the street because the latter could afford expensive lawyers

That said, the question of victimless crime is hard to fathom. Her own children could end up to be the real victim. Imagine the world of Enron and Madoff and PFGBest, everyone thought a little extra edge doesn't hurt nobody. And how about plagiarism and ghostwriter. The mentality of "so I have someone else taking SAT exam for me, I am not hurting anyone" - except the last person who could and deserve to get into Harvard or MIT or whatever

dereknobuyuki
dereknobuyuki

Unfortunately, you and many others seem to have been mislead about what hacking is.  Odds are most people have seen "cracking" dramatized on TV and in Movies (but there are also good odds that it was mislabelled as "hacking").

This, on the other hand, is clearly "hacking" since hacking is merely accessing a system without authorization.

I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing with anything else you are saying. However, this case clearly IS hacking. Furthermore, the public certainly cannot be blamed for thinking of "cracking" when the word "hacking" is used.

There are obviously good reasons why "hacking" is a felony but "the 42 years or 90,000 US$" is certainly strange.

calivianya
calivianya

 I agree, she didn't hack into the system. That's stupid. I'm going to disagree with you that the changes weren't significant, though. I don't know about this school system, but in my former high school a 98 was an A and a 99 was an A+, and an A carried a 4.0 weight while an A+ carries a 4.3. If this high school uses a similar system that rewards A+ grades over As, she did alter her son's overall GPA and his chances of getting a scholarship. A medical excuse for a bad grade and just being a failure are two very different things as well, and will also affect her daughter's chance of getting into a good university.

The amount of jail time she could get is ridiculous, but giving her children an unfair advantage over other children is definitely immoral and illegal. The system has enough problems without parents playing God and deciding that their children are so much more important than everyone else in the world that they deserve honors they didn't earn. It harms the other students to have two get ahead artificially when every other student in the class has to get what they earned. It could be directly harmful if the son and others applied for the same scholarships, and the son only had the better GPA by a small fraction.

Gary B
Gary B

So true. A team can only be as good as it leaders, though, so many, if not most teachers, threw the towel in years ago. Besides, no one in admin cares to actually supervise teachers. I've never seen it in my 20 years at the lectern. At the extreme, they'll put a letter in your file for any breach of protocol but most teachers don't know the protocol because they were never told. I've taught in 5 high schools and at no time was I ever handed a curriculum, which is essentially the teacher's job to the letter. The only time I got one was when I asked for it and the principal was taken aback that I had it on display and within my reach in my classroom. Once, I was "put" on a curriculum adoption committee at which time I made it clear that I would not be a part of adopting curriculum if it was simply part of a useless paper trail for accreditors. I was told that it was exactly that so I jumped ship. Pointless to blame the union for education woes, too, since in terms of supporting teachers, they are very weak if at all extant. Their bluff and bluster comes from their sheer size which scares politicians. Principals typically hire like-minded people, team players so to speak, which is really a euphemism for "make me comfortable at all costs." Having said all that, parents really do have power but you must be tenacious to the teeth. Never let up if you are in the right--and you most certainly were. Keep taking it up the ladder and then let all culpable parties know your next trip is to the press. In fact, see if you can't get a newspaper reporter to go with you and then enjoy the sheepish faces. In terms of assignments: I posted "everything" daily on the Smartboard which went directly to the school website which in turn sent an automatic email message to students and parents about assignments et al. I also gave very little homework except reading and maybe what we didn't get done in class. You'd be shocked to learn how much class time is a waste of time, especially in 90 minute classes. I also had a policy that allowed students to come in during lunch or after school to make up work they just didn't do or maybe lost. 

Talendria
Talendria

You're technically correct, but as you pointed out the term "hacking" carries connotations that are clearly misrepresentative of this woman and her intentions.  

My dad asked me to send an email for him last week, which involved setting up his email account on my computer.  For several days afterward, I had access to his account through my mail client because I didn't know how to delete it and because he didn't change his password.  According to the letter of the law, if I had taken a peek inside his inbox, I would be guilty of hacking.

Many years ago when I borrowed the travel laptop from my team at work, I had to crack into it because some noob on the development team had password-protected Windows.  Does that make me guilty of felony hacking?

I'm no legal expert, but from what I've read the complainant has to demonstrate actual loss that resulted from the defendant's actions.  In this case, the loss appears minimal, which is why I think they're turning this woman into a scapegoat.  She should receive probation and community service, nothing more.

Talendria
Talendria

According to the school's website, 93-100 is an A, so it should've made no difference whatsoever for the son's GPA.  As to the daughter, maybe the mother felt there was a medical justification for the F that the school had previously denied.  I've been in a similar situation with my son where the school refused to grant an IEP based on my son's unique difficulties.  Since it was only elementary school, I didn't obsess over his grades, but the stakes are considerably higher in high school.  Public schools have tremendous power over a child's future, and they don't always use it compassionately or intelligently.  Furthermore, lots of kids "get ahead artificially" by means of athletic prestige or wealth.  I went to college with a lot of dumb kids who had no business being there but got in due to their parents' influence or because they could play basketball.  The system is morally bankrupt.

bosco
bosco

T, if you choose to play with words, not really. Your dad did not revoke your access. It is like you are granting Instagram app access to Facebook, it is no one fault if you don't take action to revoke it. 

So you are safe from the long arm of the law :o)

The 2nd case depends on your company's codes of conduct and rules for using electronic devices. Usually, you can go to the Help Desk. But really, neither you nor some noob should muck with system software. At the document level? Maybe.  But time has changed, especially with the latest advent of BYOD and cloud computing etc, so it depends on your company. Even so, be serious, many people use their family photo as screensaver etc. Now that is understandable. But what if some  marketing guy snooping around the CxO payroll file? One is asking for trouble. And if one uses one's colleague's id to download some tech diagrams, even if one has full access to tech library? It smell duplicity in ways more than one

Since we are parsing for words :o), she is no scapegoat. At least according to 

http://www.merriam-webster.com... 

a : one that bears the blame for othersb : one that is the object of irrational hostility 

The reporting didn't suggest either. Like I say in earlier, obviously hacking laws weren't meant for helicopter mom, but one should worry more about the moral implication than the legal one, which, to my distress, some folks think it is no big deal. If we start down this slippery slope, the next unpleasant words would be 'cheating', 'lying' and 'nespotism'