BERKELEY (CBS SF) — About 50 Berkeley High School students will be suspended and up to four could be expelled for a recently discovered scheme in which students hacked into the school’s attendance system and sold cleared absences to classmates, school administrators said Wednesday.

School staff discovered the breach in the school’s attendance system while reviewing student data a few weeks ago, according to Principal Pasquale Scuderi.

Administrators found that several student accounts in the school’s attendance database, called Powerschool, appeared to have unauthorized changes to their attendance records last fall.

Further investigation revealed that at least four students got their hands on an administrative password that allows access to Powerschool, then logged in and cleared absences or tardy marks on classmates’ records for a fee, Scuderi said.

The principal did not disclose how much money the students exchanged, but said an investigation by district technical staff and administrators showed that about 50 students participated in the scam.

“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,” the principal said in a statement.

Scuderi said he believes the expulsion of those students who launched the scam is an appropriate response, considering the number of administrative hours spent to investigate the scheme as well as the “flagrant dishonesty exhibited”.

The principal said that while he is disappointed in the students, he hopes the incident will be a teachable moment for staff and parents and is encouraged by current attendance records for the school’s 3,200 students.

The school’s attendance record rose to 94 percent for the first seven months of the school year compared to 92 percent during the same period last year.

Over the past year, the school has made attendance a top priority, hiring a Dean of Attendance to oversee the school’s attendance process and crack down on chronic truancy, the principal said.

Scuderi credited the school’s addition this year of a Dean of Attendance as well as the school’s teachers for keeping attendance levels high.

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