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RealTime IT News

Felonious Times at Kutztown High

The saga of the Kutztown 13 reads like a screenplay for one of those bad teenage movies where the kids outsmart the adults. Only in this instance, the kids end up facing felony charges.

This sorry tale (like most sorry tales) began with good intentions. The taxpayers of Kutztown, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia, wanted to give their kids the tools to succeed in an increasingly competitive job market.

They armed every one of Kutztown High's 600 students with free Apple iBook laptops and provided access to the school's wireless network.

For those students who can afford a $50 insurance deposit, the laptops can be taken home. For those who couldn't, deals and help were readily available. When some parents complained about the cost of carrying cases, local merchants stepped up and provided free bags.

Mind you, school-owned computers come with certain restrictions, as any parent of a teenager can well imagine and justifiably demand. Violations can result in detention, suspension, expulsion and, apparently, a felony on your record before you can drive.

Internet access, for instance, was severely restricted. To keep the young wireless mobile warriors' focus on the educational tasks at hand, music downloading sites, instant messaging and any site anywhere in the world with the word breast in it were blocked.

To make sure the boys and girls are googling instead of ogling, network administrators could monitor student screens at any time and frequently did. For the young academicians roaming the Net after dark on Mom and Dad's tab, the school network was set up to easily detect proscribed programs and sites.

Trouble, of course, began almost immediately, as it often does when 600 computer-savvy students take on the overwhelmed adults still thumbing through the instruction manuals. No music? No IM? No problem.

Within weeks, students obtained the network's magic password allowing unlimited access to the Internet. How? The bright lights running the program taped the password to their laptops.

To hear the school tell it, the students ran amok in the heretofore, secret fruits of the Internet. IM led to chat rooms. Music files stacked up on school laptops like subpoenas in a patent lawsuit. Parents were shocked, shocked, that at least one male adolescent downloaded pictures of naked women.

For even more fun and sport, students figured out how to turn off the school's monitoring and reversed it for screen shots of the teachers' laptops. As a 15-year-old told me the other night, "Way Cool!"

"Not!" said the school. The administrative password was changed and dozens of students were sentenced to detention hall for using an unauthorized password.

Soon, the new password was as widely known as the first. How? Someone found the encrypted password in the laptop system files, ran a search and downloaded a decoding program.

Detentions and even suspensions followed. By all accounts, the school's network was never seriously compromised. The big bust came in May when school officials cracked down on the key alleged perps. All 13 refused to say where they got the new password.

Skipping any other sort of discipline, the school turned them over to the police. The Kutztown Police found all the students in violation of Pennsylvania's computer trespass law, a third-degree felony.

If convicted, the students face possible time in juvenile detention, probation or community service, and a record as a felon (something college admission officials tend to frown upon, unless said felon is a gifted athlete).

The parents, unfortunately, seem to have the same block of wood on their shoulders as the school administrators. They say the school didn't inform them of the problem, an accusation the school vehemently denies. Instead of accepting responsibility for their children's actions, they've started a Web site selling bumper stickers proclaiming, "Arrest Me, I Know the Password!"

Unlike the popular teen flicks that glut the summer market, this plot has taken a sad and sorry turn.