The Kutztown 13

Thirteen Pennsylvania high-school kids—Kutztown 13—are being charged with felonies:

They’re being called the Kutztown 13—a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued laptops, downloading forbidden internet goodies and using monitoring software to spy on district administrators.

The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior—no malicious acts are alleged—but rather because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers….

The trouble began last fall after the district issued some 600 Apple iBook laptops to every student at the high school about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The computers were loaded with a filtering program that limited Internet access. They also had software that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.

But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain unrestricted Internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version of the school’s street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers.

The password got passed around and students began downloading such forbidden programs as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool.

At least one student viewed pornography. Some students also turned off the remote monitoring function and turned the tables on their elders_ using it to view administrators’ own computer screens.

There’s more to the story, though. Here’s some good commentary on the issue:

What the parents don’t mention—but the school did in a press release—is that it wasn’t as if the school came down with the Hammer of God out of nowhere.

These kids were caught and punished for doing this stuff, and their parents informed.

Over and over.

Quoth the release:

“Unfortunately, after repeated warnings and disciplinary actions, a few students continued to misuse the school-issued laptops to varying degrees. The disciplinary actions included detentions, in-school suspensions, loss of Internet access, and loss of computer privileges. After each disciplinary action, parents received either written notification or telephone calls.”

What was the parents’ reaction those disciplinary actions? Some of them complained that—despite signing a document agreeing to the acceptable use policy—the kids should be able to do whatever they wanted to with the free machines.

“We signed it, but we didn’t mean it”?

Yes, the kids should be punished. No, a felony comviction is not the way to punish them.

The problem is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Breaking the rules is what kids do. Society needs to deal with that, yes, but it needs to deal with that in a way that doesn’t ruin lives. Deterrence is critical if we are to ever have a lawful society on the internet, but deterrence has to come from rational prosecution. This simply isn’t rational.

EDITED TO ADD (2 Sep): It seems that charges have been dropped.

Posted on August 22, 2005 at 6:56 AM83 Comments


Daniel Nylander August 22, 2005 7:13 AM

Why move the security control to the end-user? There must be centralized security controls or you will face “evil” teenagers who try to bypass local controls.
These persons would never be prosecuted in my country (Sweden).. just a “big no no” and probably return their laptop to the school.

Joachim Strombergson August 22, 2005 7:36 AM


If the events as described is correct, then what the school did seems to much less overreacting than what have been described earlier. I agree with Daniel that taking away the laptops should have been a proper course of action. At least after more than one offence.

But what strikes me is the irresponsible behaviour from the parents. Not stopping their kids, not realising that a signed agreement is an agreement and generally pushing parenting responsibility onto the schools. At least in Sweden, currently if you are under 15, the parent is responsible for the actions by their kids. Unfortunately, expecting the school and the community to raise oncekids seems to be a quite common misconception here too…

And inept IT-security by the school has nothing to do with it. The only weird thing done by the school is that the school actually decided on using Internetfilters and a monitor/supervision programs onto the laptops. Trusting the students big time there…

Orville August 22, 2005 7:41 AM

The obvious solution would be to take back the computers from the offenders and forfeit any security deposit.

Guillermito August 22, 2005 7:58 AM

That’s quite insane. I don’t understand why, everytime a computer manipulation is involved, authorities (whatever they are) suddenly become very heavy handed. Spray a graffiti on a wall, steal a book or a DVD from a shop, and you will get some kind of normal small fine if you’re caught. Deface a website, reverse engineer a program, download a pirated movie, outsmart a stupid school computer administrator like these kids did, and your life may be ruined. Why didn’t they just confiscated the laptops ?

meme August 22, 2005 8:03 AM

If the school couldn’t handle securing the PC’s so that the kids couldn’t crack the security, then they got what they had coming to them, whether it was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of the students. But perhaps having the laptops get hacked wasn’t a big deal (no other systems compromised, etc) and their overarching goal was really just to ensure (for the student’s educational sake) that they were using their laptop in an authorized manner, not chatting or downloading porn, etc. In that case, why not just take the laptops away as a consequence of breaching the license agreement? We caught you once, with our password that we taped on the back… shame on us, we’re idiots. We caught you twice now, cracking our new password, shame on you that you were stupid enough to get caught again… no more laptop to play with.

Laptops are wonderful tools, especially if the school can facilitate a way for the students to have one to take home, but many many people have been educated just fine without the use of the internet and their own personal laptop at their disposal. It’s not as if the kids have a ‘right’ to their own school-provided laptop, which is why it baffles me that they don’t just take them away instead of suspending the offenders or dragging these kids to court. That is really a last resort?–Charging them with a felony?

What may be amiss here is a lack of parenting experience on the part of both the parents and the school administrators, as well as the lack of an accurate discipline model of what’s effective. Back in the good ol’ days you’d get the tar beat out of you for breaking the rules. That’s obviously not coming down from the parents involved here. And since we’ve disallowed that kind of involvement from our schools, their easiest resort is going to be the courts. Once upon a time you’d get the tar beat out of you at school and then the principle would tell your parents and you’d go home and get the tar beat out of you again. No longer. But even within the bounds of our politically correct society, the school administration DOES have other options. The fact that they say they have no other option but to drag these kids to court shows their true ignorance on the topics of school administration, education, discipline, and the generally curious and problem-solving nature of technologically adept youngsters, who can stare only past the end of their nose at the need to install chat software.

pit August 22, 2005 8:06 AM

What these punishers do is making a monstruous idol out of the “law” and forgetting basic common sense and humanity. THEY should be punished, as this is a crime against humanity.

Andrew Nonymous August 22, 2005 8:23 AM

The school left the passwords taped to the laptops, and now they’re pressing felony charges. Make it easy, then press with legal action. Smells familiar, almost DMCA like. It’s the American way!

RvnPhnx August 22, 2005 8:47 AM

I note how nobody has broached the fact that the students were subject to unrestricted survailance. I hate to say it, but those school administrators ran amok also. The reasons why are numerous, but the words “civil liberties” come to mind. Before you go and say “minors have no expectation of having their civil liberties respected” think for a second as to the kind of society actually acting upon that principle creates.
As for only using the laptops for “school use” there are a large number of problems. Does that include researching where to go to college? Does that include reading the news for your Social Studies class? Most school administrators would actually say no to both of those questions.
As for filtering software (many school librarians would agree with me on this), what good is that really going to do anyone? Sure, we can prevent our children for “poisioning their minds” with the evils of pornography (give me a break); but often times we are also preventing them from getting actually valuable information–with no recourse. What you really need is a good relationship with the student–BOTH WAYS. Getting all high and mighty will not solve anything. Nor will being all touchy feely. The answer is with the people and not the technology in this case.
Now, as for the students, yes they did violate the law, and yes they did violate the AUP. So take away network access first–then take away the machine, etc. The internet access should all be routed through a vpn or similar system anyway so that you can do such a thing. As for those whom spied on the administrators I have the same opinion of them that I do of administrators wanting to spy upon the students–what they did is most defnintely wrong and they should face the music. Make the punishment fit the crime, and don’t open the door for more problems by dealing with violators of written agreements irresponsibly on top of that.
Now, one final note: school administrations demonstrate obsurd paranoia toward any system with lets student communicate directly that doesn’t automatically inform them of each and every student’s most intimate thought. That is the reason for the prohibition on instant messaging. It is, quite frankly, an even more obsurd notion that you can (or should) prevent students from communicating directly while not under Orwellian supervision–as these administrators quite obviously intended. Do we want to create students whom can think and communicate in the moden age on their own or not?
I say open up a vpn-local jabber server and let the students use that–letting the students know ahead of time that everything will be logged for a month or two and sticking to that policy like glue. That is a reasonable compromise which lets the students use messaging in a responsible manner while providing comfort to the administrators whom think that all students ever want to do is cheat on their exams and do drugs (and lets the more down to earth folk do things like leave up an IM window and let students ask questions about their math homework).
This is a multi-faceted issue much bigger than just these students, the law, and schools. To actually solve the problem we all need to be more willing to look at and argue about the big picture–instead of pick out easy scapegoats and not fix anything (something that I’ve tried, yet only begun to do myself).
Ask yourself “What kind of people (respect, responsibility) do I want to help the students around me become?”

Bruce Schneier August 22, 2005 8:47 AM

“If the events as described is correct, then what the school did seems to much less overreacting than what have been described earlier.”

I can’t figure out if the school overreacted or not; I don’t have enough facts. It sounds like they tried other avenues, and only called the police in when they had no other option. But it also sounds like the school administrator had an axe to grind. I don’t know what’s true.

What I do know is that the legal system is overreacting. This kind of thing should not be a felony.

Roy Owens August 22, 2005 8:59 AM

Kantor wrote, “When nothing else worked, the school turned to the only thing it had left: the law.”

Okay, let’s apply the law. Minors cannot enter into legally binding contracts.

Abuse of the law is what you expect when the adults in charge are made to appear incompetent by children (who are technologicically smarter).

Jo_Ava August 22, 2005 9:13 AM


“Okay, let’s apply the law. Minors cannot enter into legally binding contracts.”

Usually the parents are asked to sign the contract as well, and, as someone indicated earlier, the parents are legally responsible for the actions of the kids under their supervision, which is implied in the co-signed contract.

Michael Ash August 22, 2005 9:17 AM

School administrators are simply not rational when it comes to computers.

I was threatened with as much when I was in high school for doing literally nothing. The admins misinterpreted the logs, decided I was to blame, and started throwing accusations and threats of prosecution around before they had even figured out what had happened. A month later, they figure it out, let me back on the machines without so much as a “sorry”.

The fact that there were repeated punishments is irrelevant. There is enormous range between “calling parents, removing computer access” and “felony prosecution”. Failing to use that range for actions which weren’t even harmful to other people is simply mean-spirited and irrational. Either the school actually believes that these offenses merit hard jail time, or they’re out for revenge. In either case, the people responsible have shown that they are not competent to supervise children, and must be removed from their posts.

Mary R August 22, 2005 9:17 AM

Laptop programs like this turn into a real Catch-22. Because the students are supposed to all have the laptops, class assignments require them. If kids abuse the laptop privileges, you can’t take them away, because then they won’t be able to do their schoolwork.

My solution would be laptops are free, but if students are caught abusing the system, the parents will be assessed the cost of a non-school laptop for the kid (at whatever wholesale price the school is paying). This would give the parents some incentive to follow the rules. Although, some parents might just buy their kids the laptops to avoid the privacy invasions, which would defeat the “at least all the kids are facing the same restrictions on computer use” argument.


Bill Ballantyne August 22, 2005 9:18 AM

The real reason the school is coming down so hard on these kids? Because the kids made a mockery of the administration and their ‘security features’ — it’s simple politics! Graffiti, shoplifting, etc. generally don’t make anyone except the perpetrator look bad, and so you get the typical slap on the wrist.

Alex Krupp August 22, 2005 9:20 AM

This reminds me of when my high school threatened to suspend me for installing Nethack (the computer game) on the school computers. The sysadmin thought it was a hacking tool and deleted it from my system wide folder with no explanation. So I put it back on and he deleted it again, and this went on for a while. My basic plan was to embarrass the sysadmin who thought that the ascii game was a hacking tool. Of course games weren’t allowed either, but that isn’t why he was deleting it. Then the sysadmin finally disabled my account, so I went to the other sysadmin and told her I typed the incorrect password too many times so my account got disabled, and they reenabled it. When the first sysadmin eventually found out he just deleted my account entirely so I had to use a friends for the rest of the year until I graduated.

The good thing about my public school is that I figured out they had sort of an unofficial policy of not punishing you unless you admitted to doing something wrong. I still don’t understand why they did this, but it always held true for me. Once I figured it out I never admitted to anything no matter how blatantly in the wrong I was. It was always “well I see your point but I really didn’t intend to set the chem lab on fire when I woke up this morning, it just sort of happened.”

Anyway the nethack thing was basically the same thing these kids did, sans felony.

P.S. I found one of the original usenet threads here:

DarkFire August 22, 2005 9:22 AM

Does anyone else think that preventing the kids from chatting is a serious disadvantage. They are supposed to be using the laptops as a learning tool and what ebtter way to learn that by rational accademic discussion?

Makes a load of sense,,,

Lee Carré August 22, 2005 9:38 AM

maybe if they showed some trust towards the kids in the first place, they wouldn’t have tried to defeat the “security” software and outsmart the security admin

Tim Vail August 22, 2005 9:40 AM

I find it interesting that the register and wired differ on how the student cracked the second password. The register article said a decryption program, the wired article says a password cracker.

Somehow, I think the wired article is more accurate here.

Jo_Ava August 22, 2005 9:41 AM


“rational accademic discussion” ???

Ha… aha… ahahahahahahaha

I’m sorry, is that what you call teenage conversation on iChat or MSN? Pre-computer, is that what you called the little slips of paper passed under the desk? Glad to know that my education was so enhanced by my scribblings of “Oh my god, he’s so cute… did he really say that?????”

Seriously, though, while I don’t think the school is justified in asking for felony charges, I think they are justified in wanting to know how students are using their equipment.

Schools are often held legally responsible for things done on their property (bullying, for example), or using their equipment. If a student performed a criminal act (downloading pirated materials) using school computers, the school could be held responsible.

Furthermore, parents have been known to threaten to do things like sue a school that does not intervene in cases of extreme bullying. How hypocritical is it for parents to insist that schools know everything the students are doing, on pain of legal action, and then to balk and backpedal when schools demand legal responsibility by the parents for the actions of the students using school property? Parents can’t have it both ways. Either the school keeps tabs, or it doesn’t. But you can’t cry foul when the school does it, ADVERTISES it, tries to protect that capability (however ineptly), and then tries to enforce that capability by attempting to enact consequences that are then undermined by the self-same parents who agreed to the measures on paper in the first place.

Grainne August 22, 2005 9:52 AM

In my old school our network admin (a business teacher) allowed a few of us (me incl) to help administer/supervise/help in the computer room. This approach changed the interests of the students who would have been potential hackers from trying to attack the system into trying to protect the system. I know this is potentially risky and based purely on trust, but it worked really well and we learnt lots. We didn’t get free laptops though! 🙁

Dave August 22, 2005 10:29 AM


“our network admin (a business teacher) allowed a few of us (me incl) to help administer/supervise/help”

I think that is a really good approach. I used to be responsible for the network and technical security controls at a university. I would look for the computer savvy to help me with deploying and monitoring the network. It definitely changed their attitude toward the system.

I had one student who had blogged derogatory stuff about me who later worked for me and eventually replaced me. He was able to stay on top of the ways students circumvented our controls. Ultimately, he wound up being a good friend and a great resource. You have to be careful with the “if you can’t beat them, hire them” mentality, but it can be very effective.

crash2snow August 22, 2005 10:41 AM

This seems to be a typical case in most school districts. The problem is, as I see it, that people want “regulated” Internet for school kids, but they don’t want to teach the kids what “good” Internet behavior is. With anything, if you tell someone “Don’t do it!” they are more likely to do it anyway, just to see why you don’t want them doing it.

What the school should be doing is working with the kids, not against them. Teach them the good behavior, treat them as intelligent human beings, and, if they do something wrong, discuss it with them. Too many kids form negative views of sysadmins because of a sysadmins view of “I don’t want them doing that, they are banned.”

Anyway, the school in this article is going beyond what it should do. There are other security methods they could use to track what their students are doing that are less intrusive. The fact that they are smart enough to publicly post their password is enough to tell me that they should get someone new to run their network.

Roy August 22, 2005 11:02 AM

I’ve no time for the argument that “well if their security system was rubbish they deserve what they get!!!!”. If it wasn’t for those people who feel they have a right to circumvent controls, then we wouldn’t need security in the first place. In much the same way, if I leave my house unlocked then I shouldn’t expect to have it robbed and my neighbours going “serves you right”.

As Ranum says “Truly, the only people who deserve a complete helping of blame are the hackers”

David August 22, 2005 11:11 AM

I don’t know about anyone else, but to me this smacks of Florida’s 3 strikes law. Do it once and it’s light, do it twice and its tough punishment, do it three times and land in jail forever (life sentence).

Disclaimer: Florida’s 3 strikes law are for things like robbing a store with a handgun, etc.

Sounds to me like the kids did things wrong, had their laptops removed, did more things wrong and had suspension, and then continued to do things wrong; Thus the “felony” charges.

Unfortunately, the first “legal” crime should be a ticket, the second crime should be a misdemeanor, and then the third should be a felony. The school system effectively has become judge, and jury for the first two parts of the equation. That is just plain wrong and the administrators should admit it.

Just my 2 cents.

J August 22, 2005 11:30 AM

“A shortened version of the school’s street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers.” How can these administrators look the parents or kids in the eye and ask anything. A normal person would be so embarrassed the last thing they would do is a public event. Sure, throw the kids in jail, I hope they share cells with the administrators who (a) have been fired for prima facie incompetence (b) have been prosecuted for contributing to the deliquency of a minor (c) have been prosecuted for another half dozen things that are against the law if only you look.

Ed T. August 22, 2005 11:47 AM

Fortunately, my kid has graduated from the public school system, so I don’t have to worry about this type of stupidity anymore. However, a couple of points I would like to make:

1) Taping the administrator password to the back of the laptops was incredibly stupid — and whoever did that should have been fired on the spot.

2) The parents should have insisted that their children abide by the rules. Had my son been one of the “Gang of 13”, the school would not have had to take the computer back — I would have given it to them the first time he was caught, then insisted that they provide a lesson plan (program of instruction) that didn’t require an Internet-connected computer to complete. In fact, if my son was still in school, I might not be willing to sign their standard agreement (which would keep him off the school computers), and insist on a PC-free lesson plan, just to keep myself out of trouble.

3) School officials are calling in law enforcement far too quickly in many cases. This is especially true in cases of “special needs” students, where making it a criminal matter takes the burden of compliance with Federal laws like the ADA (and the cost of providing individualized instruction to special-needs students) out of their hands (and off their already-strained budgets.)

4) The response way way out of proportion. Again, simply put: any time the police are called on a felony case, we must expect that there is a real chance it will end with someone getting killed. Heck, the same can be true for misdemeanor cases!

5) The penalties of a felony conviction are way out of proportion. Example: since the kids are high schoolers, let’s say the DA decides to “send a message” and prosecute them as adults. And the jury, made up of typical Windows home users, convicts them. Well, in the state of Texas, that means that they would never be able to live in a rental apartment which was governed by the standard rental agreement, for almost no apartment complex will rent to a convicted felon. To top it off, more and more employers are refusing to hire ex-cons, colleges are refusing to admit them as students, and we are seeing cases where municipalities and even CCRs (deed restrictions) are banning certain types of felons from living within their jurisdiction. Given our preference to bury ex-cons under the jail & throw away the key for life, I see a very bleak future for these kids if they are convicted.

I truly don’t know what the answer is: maybe a public execution, which would be so disgusting to the public at large that they would finally start using their Common Sense when dealing with this type of situation.

Davi Ottenheimer August 22, 2005 11:49 AM

“But it also sounds like the school administrator had an axe to grind.”

That’s the key to the story, as several have hinted at above. Probably less an “axe to grind” as a natural knee-jerk reaction to a threat to their authority.

In classic form, the school administrators did not understand the extent of their vulnerabilities, or perhaps even the value of the assets, and therefore overestimated the actual threats they were facing. It is a sad and common reaction of ill-equiped authorities to deliver harsh penalties to mitigate perceived threats, rather than to reassess risks and question whether vulnerabilities or assets could have been (and/or will be) better secured.

Chris W August 22, 2005 11:49 AM

“It sounds like they tried other avenues, and only called the police in when they had no other option.”

What about using a secure password that isn’t taped to the laptop?

Of course, I could beat that in five minutes, if I had a compatible livecd. Except you can change the boot order in the BIOS and password-protect the BIOS with a secure password. Then you’re not getting access without doing a brute-force attack that would likely take more time and skill than most high schoolers care to use.

And it takes such a short amount of time per machine.

Don August 22, 2005 11:52 AM

I’d find Kantor’s commentary in USA Today more valuable if he didn’t compare installing chat software to robbing a bank. One clearly deprives other people of property, the other… what? I’m having a hard time figuring out what these kids deprived anyone of, with the exception of the remote snooping software that they used illicitly.

The school system decided to limit the permissions levels for the kids for what seems like entirely arbitrary reasons. Here’s a tool but don’t use it to its fullest capacity. If they were simply worried about culpability they should have sent the parents of the violaters amended agreements acknowledging that the kids were bypassing restrictions and they could release the school from liability or hand over the laptops. If it was time & resouces they should have stopped dealing with this like a corporate IT support solution and used the same policies they use for everything else they issue to students.

The school system doesn’t spend this amount of time hassling with the books or sports equipment. You want to write in that book or spill mustard on it, knock yourself out – you’ll be paying for a new one at turn-in. Don’t bring back that helmet? Write a check. Can’t be bothered to wash that jersey? Okay, you can have another one… when you open your wallet.

The laptops could have been dealt with in an identical way. Imaging the hard drives to a stock config is quick and a walk in the park. Every problem related to unautorized software should have simply been dealt with by blasting the existing config and putting the stock image on… for the $50 deposit fee. If every time they had to be dealt with the parents had to write a check you can be sure the screwing around would have been resolved toot-sweet.

fatmanmp August 22, 2005 11:59 AM

We don’t have all the facts potentially, only what is reported/distorted in the media.

However, the bottom line for me is this:

If the kids were given the opportunity to ‘change their ways’ after the repeated infractions and it appears that the rules governing the use of the laptops were broken many many times, then the school should be free to use whatever course of action necessary.

As an ex-school teacher (who quit because of precisely this sort of thing – lack of support from parents and school management in many cases over disciplinary issues), I applaud the school for taking this line.

Parents have an equal responsibility here and must shoulder some of the blame. If they signed the AUP, they can’t then complain about it!

How many ‘chances’ do they want?!

I presume that the use of the authorities if necessary was listed on the AUP in the first place? If not, then that’s a whole different kettle of fish…..

Ari Heikkinen August 22, 2005 12:08 PM

Why give kids laptops in the first place? I wouldn’t expect to get a laptop back in one piece from 13 years old kids anyway.. Although I’m sure it’s not the whole story, I’m sure no judge would ruin their lives with something like years in jail for that and will come up with appropriate punishment. To me it looks more like a great lesson to tose kids..

Tim Vail August 22, 2005 12:41 PM


The USA Today guy didn’t compare installing chat program to robbing banks. He compared turning the monitoring program over to monitor the admins to robbing a bank. And it wasn’t a “severity” comparison — just simply that both are brilliant, but brilliant does not mean right.

Rich August 22, 2005 1:02 PM

We were all kids — when I was in the 7th grade (1985) I was fortunate to have “Computer Science” as a class. I, and a few others, took to guessing the passwords of other students and modifying their assignments (BASIC programs) to do things that were, well quite unexpected.

No harm was done, in fact that teacher knew we did it and we got off with a warning. That was the end of it — I was lucky a note didn’t go home because my father would have killed me.

That’s the problem here, parents today do nothing to dicipline their kids. Numerous notes went home in this case, and the parents did nothing. They’re also sending a great message with the Website they’ve created.

I doubt these kids will get in real trouble here, but it looks like the court hopefully will teach these kids a little bit of a lesson because the parently are woefully lacking in this area.

DM August 22, 2005 1:15 PM

If you ive a kid a laptop, theyre going to use it for instant messaging and browsing the web. If you restrict them in how they can use that laptop, they’re going to try to get around the restrictions. If you monitor them continuously, theyre going to try to get out from under that monitoring.

Giving kids criminal felony convictions for these kinds of things is just ludicrous.

The only thing that seems to have been harmed here is the total authority of the school over the use of its laptops.

I understand why they might have put these rules in place (i.e to limit their liability if the kids used the computers to download porn), but its not a sufficient reason to throw criminal convictions at the kids.

A better response would be to re-examine their polices to see if they can be liberalised (i.e. to de-criminalise the natural proclivities of teenagers), and to re-examine their security mechanisms to enforce the policies they have.

Francois Kashy August 22, 2005 1:20 PM

From what I have read on the issue, there are several critical points being missed. Some of the sources on this could be wrong, but these issues, if true, change the whole picture.

First, according to some of the parents, the school’s administration has always had a “water-cooler dictator” mentality, and has always had trouble relating to the students and parents. This could explain the administration’s overreaction to these issues.

Second, the school forced the students to use the laptops. There was no option to decline, no option to use their own computers instead. The students were all required to use the school’s laptops and were unable do the work any other way. If that’s true, the administration set themselves up, and they have more accountability here. Now, the administration could have simply discontinued the laptop usage at any time, they chose not to do that. If participation wasn’t voluntary, the school should be much more culpable.

Third, hundreds of students were guilty of the exact same behavior as these 13. The laptops were forced on the whole high school. Passwords and tactics were circulated throughout the school. For some mysterious reason, only these 13 were singled out.

Jilara August 22, 2005 1:23 PM

I would be very interested in seeing the section of the penal code they are being charged under. It sounds like it’s probably a classic example of a poorly-written law that could be made to apply to the broadest of circumstances, and hence be subject to abuse. Pennsylvanians should be writing to their legislators and demanding the law be examined and rewritten so that it can’t be used for this sort of thing.

Bill Whirrly August 22, 2005 2:16 PM

I seem to dissagree with most of the comments here. The kids did commit a crime, that is understood. The kids and their parents were warned repeatedly, that is also understood. If the parents and/or kids are not going to listen to warnings, then they have to pay the consiquences.

This is hardly out of nowhere. If you are warned….repeatedly….and still choose not to listen, then it is time to come down with the Hammer of God.

Bryan August 22, 2005 2:29 PM

It seems to me that many people are forgetting the schools role: to teach.

They TRIED to teach these kids that certain behaviours are unacceptable. Repeated slaps on the wrist (ie detention) were tried. This failed. Now the school needs to teach not only the Kutztown 13, but all others in the district that this sort of hacking is in fact, bad behaviour that can get you serious penalties.

Someone mentioned lesser punishments for grafitti and etc. The difference there is that pretty much everyone knows that’s unacceptable behaviour. But this hacking meme is different; it’s becoming ‘cool’, ‘not that big a deal’ and so on. But when these kids graduate to heavier hacking and get busted, maybe they’d wish someone had taught them the lesson a bit more forcefully when they were younger?

Second, many have taken the attitude that the school’s security was a joke and therefor the school is really at fault. Another bad argument… let’s take it to an extreme.

Suppose the school’s sysadmin had spent hundreds of hours (on his own time probably, since schools are notoriously stingy in budgeting resources to systems admin) doing an absolutely wonderful job of securing the systems. No suppose a little more that with all that work, he did leave one tiny, obscure hole open … and some kid hacked through that? Would you still be crowing that it’s the school’s fault because their security was beatable … by a kid with many, many hours to spend on the task? Or would you say no, this time it’s the kids fault since the sysadmin obviously did much due diligence in the security realm?

You may see where I’m going here. Exactly how much security effort is considered enough to escape comments like the ones above? Whether or not I lock my home, I am not inviting the criminal across my dorstep and he knows it. I say the line was visible, the kids knew they were crossing it, and they deserved real penalties to teach them the values our society would like them to have.

The line was there. Just like the lines in the middle of the road – easy to cross, and often you can do it without being caught. But do it at the wrong place and time, and the penalty could be much, much more severe.

David Thornley August 22, 2005 3:44 PM

I just read the article.

I saw no allegation of any harmful behavior on the part of the students. The worst they did was download porn. It isn’t what I’d want my child to be doing, but it doesn’t harm anybody else. There were no allegations that they had altered or destroyed data, or even illegally published it.

In short, what the students did was to violate school rules and regulations. This is apparently to be considered a felony, according to the school district and some of the people posting here.

The penalties for violating school rules should be confined to the school. Take the laptops back, even if they were intended to be necessary for schoolwork. Detain, suspend, and, if necessary, expel. Don’t prosecute as a felony.

In the meantime, the school administrators acted irresponsibly. As a parent, I like to have some control over what my child does on the net. In my school district, the published restrictions on computer use, and the fact that computers are used only under general supervision, means that I don’t have to worry about what he is doing in school. Give students laptops, which are, for practical purposes, unsecured, and I suddenly can’t know what my child is doing. Yet they get to continue feeling smug about setting up attractive nuisances and undermining parental authority.

Chung Leong August 22, 2005 4:02 PM

I think people are missing the point. The purpose of our junvenile correction system isn’t to punish misguide youths. Its purpose is to educate and reform, to make those who passing through it better members of society in the end. While it’s not perfect, it’s unfair to say that it somehow ruins lives.

Kevin Davidson August 22, 2005 4:36 PM

I learned from painful experience that government IT administrators have no sense of humor whatever, especially when they are outsmarted.

This lesson is something I taught my own kids.

[Chung Leong apparently is not aware of what a felony conviction means in the US. It prevents a person for holding some jobs, makes it hard to get any job, in most places it means loss of the right to vote. It really does ruin someones life.]

RvnPhnx August 22, 2005 4:58 PM

Ok, so we have two camps here: the “kill those hacking bastard children camp” and the “there must be a bigger picture camp.” By my very saying this can you guess which camp I’m a member of?
As I said earlier, the bigger question is “What kind of a society do we want to create, and how do we intend to get there?”

Davi Ottenheimer August 22, 2005 5:05 PM

“If you are warned….repeatedly….and still choose not to listen, then it is time to come down with the Hammer of God.”

I believe you’ve missed Bruce’s sage point that punishment should fit the crime. Not obeying an order should not in itself result in harsh/capital punishment, or whatever “Hammer of God” is supposed to mean.

Some even say that disobeying orders from a misguided and ill-informed authority is the morally correct, if not virtuous, thing to do. Kids breaking rules in school might be embarassing and annoying, but we have to carefully assess and understand the situation (asset x threat x vulnerability) to better judge who made a fair risk calculation and who stepped over the line of reasonable behavior.

Davi Ottenheimer August 22, 2005 5:12 PM

“The penalties for violating school rules should be confined to the school. Take the laptops back, even if they were intended to be necessary for schoolwork. Detain, suspend, and, if necessary, expel. Don’t prosecute as a felony.”

I agree with this. In fact, I am a bit shocked how things were handled by this particular school administration.

I have worked on a good number of investigations involving minors suspected of abusing information systems; in all of these cases the schools invariably tried to handle events internally with little or no outside law enforcement involvement, except in cases of clear harm or obvious felony.

kw August 22, 2005 5:42 PM

Bruce, I normally agree with your assessments, but I think your logic on this one is very weak. In particular: “Breaking the rules is what kids do. Society needs to deal with that, yes, but it needs to deal with that in a way that doesn’t ruin lives.” Kids also commit murder and robbery, among other things, and ruin plenty of lives. Many of them cakewalk through the “kinder, gentler” juvenile justice and penal systems too, and come out at age 18 ready to commit more crime. The fact that they got merely “slaps on the wrist” as minors is such a mild deterrent that many of them go on to be adult criminals.

I have always preferred this perspective: “if old enough to commit the crime, then old enough to do the time”.

my view may be a bit more “realistic” though because i live in a high crime area and have to deal with crime (often committed by minors with weapons) on a regular basis. car thefts, carjackings, car burglaries, home burglaries, murders, drug dealing, etc are part of my daily life.

John Pritchard August 22, 2005 6:06 PM

Inject technology into an intelligent population and be surprised by unexpected results?

Hmmm. The word right comes to mind, not wrong.

When kids stop exploring, we’ll be finished.

DM August 22, 2005 6:21 PM

“if old enough to commit the crime, then old enough to do the time”.

So whats the crime here, exactly?

Failure to follow orders?

Illegal avoidance of surveilance?

Circumventing control mechanisms?

Viewing information without proper censorship protocols?

Using unauthorised communication mechanisms?

Use of computing and network resources for purposes contrary to the explicit wishes of system administrators?

Dr. Spoonbender August 22, 2005 7:33 PM

Good grief…

There is a common quote that comes to mind about casting perls before swine. This community in Klutztown (aptly named or what?); the school, the teachers, the students were clearly not ready to handle the responsibilities involved in actually enhancing the educational experience with these machines rather than simply detracting from it.

In a day and age where our public educational system is in decline and our children are being increasingly denied the core tools they need to build a successful life with, we have decided to up the ante. My believe is that our basic educational system is in crisis and we need to simplify until we master the basics before we are ready to attack the obvious complexities that arise from distributing laptops to everyone. By way of putting this in perspective, computers weren’t really available when I was receiving my primary education, but calculaters were… and they weren’t allowed, much less given away.

Furthermore, teaching is done when an instructer is there to supervise the activities of the students at work on the topic of study. Little or no value is derived from giving students the tools of a trade before they are trained in its use. I don’t think I need to stress to this audience how powerful a tool a computer is for both creative and destructive behavior.

Finally, am I the only person to find this incident demoralizing? Have we lost the ability to understand the concept of right and wrong and hold the members of our community up to that standard? Misusing school property is theft whether or not the property is in your posession. The students shouldn’t have had an expectation of privacy; not becuase they are minors, but because they are utilizing property that is not theirs. Do they (or the parents) understand that this is a privilege? I feel that most of them do, but sadly, this program will be ruined by the few who do not have the decency to behave in way that will make the community a better place.

Caligula August 22, 2005 9:42 PM

The kid who surfed for porn despite being repeatedly told not to do so has committed a felony. If two sixteen year old minors have consensual unprotected sex (despite being forewarned of all the health risks and other dangers) and happen to produce a baby that is, well, too bad.

What was the school attempting to teach: especially when taping the password at the back. A unique exercise is self-restraint? The poor kids have a terrible tag on them for life. Are felonies struck off the record on reaching adulthood?

Sympathiser August 22, 2005 10:29 PM

It seems to me these kids were trying to escape the school’s repressive policies by using information that was publicly available. The only condemnable act here is that some of the students spied on the administrators’ computer usage, but the school administrators are guilty of the same thing.

Curt Sampson August 22, 2005 10:47 PM

Misusing school property is theft? So running a game on the school’s computer on my own time is theft, but doing the same on my own computer is not?

I doubt many adults, much less kids, could draw a coherent moral principle from that, beyond, “do what authority tells you to do.”

averros August 22, 2005 10:52 PM

kw – “I have always preferred this perspective: if old enough to commit the crime, then old enough to do the time.”

And what exactly is the crime? Agitated masturbation?

To have a crime one needs to have victims who actually suffered some loss as a result of the crime. No matter how hard I look at this case, I can see no victims of this purported “crime”. The deflated egoes of the incompetents who pretend to be teachers are not a loss to the society.

Telling authorities to get a hike when they go around issuing orders is not a crime – it is a duty of any decent person. I can only hope that the kids ordeal won’t break their spirits, as we are in the dire need of elementary decency around this society of scared sheep.

Tom Clark August 22, 2005 11:35 PM

I’ve read a few articles on this story, and one thing is clear to me. If I had been a student at this school, I would have found the admin password, disabled the filters and monitoring software, and tried to browse around the school’s network.

I guess I should be locked up too, but instead I am a computer programmer.

Chung Leong August 23, 2005 12:24 AM

Penal codes vary by state. In general, juvenile court records are confidential. They are to the court and law enforcement but not the general public. In some states, if a person does not commit a crime afte a certain time in his adult, his/her juvenile records can be permanently sealed or sometimes even destroyed. The public is excluded from most juvenile court proceeding and the minor’s identity is almost never disclosed to the media. Again, our juvenile correction system is not out to seek retribution. The state’s interest is in rehabilitation and great care is taken so that people are not “tagged” for something they’ve done in their tender years. Those who insist that convictions would mean ruining the lives of these kids are either ignorant, opinionated, or both.

What should surely ruin them is if they enter adulthood thinking they have a right to do something if they are able to do it. The raison d’etre of laws is to deter people from acts that are possible but undesirable. We do not have laws against the thief of cosmic bodies or sexual molestation of fire hydrants because these acts are not possible. We do have them against fire bombing of shops, forgery of currency, and in this case–hacking into computer systems–because these are. As noted in the USA Today editorial, the “Kutztown 13” were repeatedly warned and punished. Yet they persisted in what they were doing: “When the school changed the admin password, the kids got hold of a password-cracking program to get the new one.” Kids will break rules, true enough. That’s precisely why adults need to teach and mold them so they do not grow up to be lawbreakers. Efforts on the part of the parent and school officials have obviously failed. Thus the juvenile correction system has to step in. What is so unreasonable about that? Is it a better solution to allow them to do whatever they want with impugnity?

Jo_Ava August 23, 2005 12:43 AM

@ Curt Sampson

“Misusing school property is theft? So running a game on the school’s computer on my own time is theft, but doing the same on my own computer is not?”

Running a game on the school’s computer in your own time would not have been considered “misuse” under the acceptable use policy. On the other hand, downloading porn would be. Why? Because the school can be held responsible for what ends up on the computers, because the computers belong to them, regardless of who is using them. The school is within its rights to prevent such misuse by whatever means it can devise (acceptable use policies, firewalls, policing the network, enlisting students as sysadmin, whatever works), especially if it makes those means transparent to the users.

Schools increasingly find themselves in a Catch-22 situation, with parents demanding that they take on more of a parenting (read: value-teaching) role, but then crying out when those values clash with the laissez-faire parenting attitudes that have produced children who expect to be rewarded for repeatedly flouting rules put into place in anticipation of parental outcry in the first place.

David Deaves August 23, 2005 2:29 AM

We all think that the administrators are utterly
incompetent here for taping the password to the
back of the laptop. This is a fair call if it is
what actually happened.

But Bruce’s quote above mentions something that I
hadn’t read elsewhere – that the password was
“A shortened version of the school’s street address”

So was the label on the back ‘If found please return
to 1 Oops St Kluztown’ or the admin password.

Of cause this simply downgrades the admins to incompetent
for choosing such a poor password, but is still an
order of magnitude less stupid.

Bryan August 23, 2005 4:32 AM

One thing that strikes me about this is that everyone is wrnging their hands about how HARSH it is to charge them with felonies (which for the kids will probably result in ~50 hours of community service) …

… yet no one seems to have a suggestion on what the right punishment actually SHOULD be. Even the site doesn’t propose fitting punishment. So, everyone is angry at the solution and no one is proposing a viably different one.

Hmm. Just let ’em go then?

Paul August 23, 2005 5:57 AM

I’ve worked in a school as a tech so I know what kids can do to PCs. What shocks me the most is that it seems to be a suprise to the school that the kids would do these things. They are kids. They will screw around with anything that is put in front of them. That’s what you do at school, push the rules. Anytime you put a computer in a school with a set of rules on it such as an internet filter, some kids will try to get round it. You can tell them not to, you can make them sign stuff but don’t expect them to take it seriously. They’re kids.

One of them looked at pr0n. Oh my god. Big deal, get his mother in, tell her what he did that will scare him more than a felony charge.

If they repeatedly broke the rules regarding the use of the laptops why were they allowed to continue to use them? One of the first steps should have been to remove access to them. As for the admin who though that taping passwords to back of laptop and giving them to students was a good idea – learn to flip burgers.

This is an overreaction to typical predictable actions from children made possible by bad management.

They should be punished but it should be appropriate to children who have broken school rules. If the punishment were reasonable I think the parents would support the action. Temporary suspension, excusion from using IT equipment etc.

Reminds me of the reaction to Janet Jackson costume malfunction. In the UK we laughed at her and turned the page. In the US the lawsuits flew and knee-jerk reactions ruled.

We’re laughing again.

DM August 23, 2005 7:29 AM

Ok, snap poll.

How many of us here have used SSH or somesuch to tunnel through company firewalls?

Im a contractor at these companies, and depend on being able to access my personal and contracting company email systems, as well as various IM systems. Generally, the companies I work at prohibit access to email systems other than their own, and enforce this with a firewall. Usually, these firewalls prohibit access to a random selection of sites, including some technical/programming information websites that make good reference material.

I have SSHD set up at home, and tunnel through their firewalls to get the communications access I require to do my job.

I may be violating their policies, but I am I commiting a crime?

Ian Mason August 23, 2005 8:38 AM

The real criminals here are the school and the police. The former for taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and a fews kids heads along the way. The latter for being complict with the school.

Here in the UK both would be open to criminal malfeasance charges for this. I hope the law in the US is the same and I hope someone makes it stick.

Schools are meant to prevent bullying, not indulge in it. The whole episode has so incensed me that I’ve written to both the ACLU and EFF and lobbied them to get involved.

Chung Leong August 23, 2005 10:12 AM

“One thing that strikes me about this is that everyone is wrnging their hands about how HARSH it is to charge them with felonies.”

A felony charge isn’t a form of punishment. It means there’s probable cause to suspect that someone has commited a crime. These kids will have their day in court. If they are innocent, then they will be exonerated. If the charges are unreasonable, they will be thrown out. To argue that the charges should not be made because accused will be convicted is simply bizarre.

another_bruce August 23, 2005 10:14 AM

what’s confusing you is just the nature of the school game. public schools don’t exist for education, it’s a sheerly coincidental benefit. first and foremost, they exist as a place to park kids for a few hours a day so that parents can have jobs/enjoy more rewarding lifestyles. second, it’s about indoctrination into consumerism, middle-class groupthink, submission to any authority no matter how questionable. public school administration attracts some of the dumbest people in our society, the people who can’t do anything else, even teach, they fancy themselves lords until they’re thwarted by bright teenagers, then they throw malicious tantrums like the one in the story. the kids have been charged with felonies but i don’t think they’ll be convicted. if they prevail, they will learn that you can too stand up to illegitimate authority. btw, those “agreements” are a joke, the law in most states requires that kids of a certain age go to school, and the right to receive education, or at least intensive babysitting, is thereby secured to the parents without having to sign an agreement. next time your school district sends you one, have some fun by modifying it here and there before sending it back.

Ian Mason August 23, 2005 10:42 AM


“public school administration attracts some of the dumbest people in our society”

There’s a little humourous ditty, well known here in the UK in education circles. I was originally told it by a disillusioned ex-teacher turned professional comedian by the name of Fred Wedlock who clearly felt that telling jokes to a bunch of drunks was a step up from teaching:-

Can't do? Teach.
Can't teach? Teach teachers.
Can't teach teachers? Become an Education Officer.
Too stupid to be an Education Officer? Join the Army.
Too stupid to join the Army? Join the police.
Too stupid for the police? Get elected to parliament.

Ian Mason August 23, 2005 10:52 AM

@Chung Leong

“A felony charge isn’t a form of punishment.”

Erm, there speaks a man who hasn’t been accused of a serious crime. I was once mistakenly arrested on suspicion of burglary, held for 23 hours in a cell and interrogated by police. Trust me, even when you know you’re innocent that’s an ordeal worse than any punishment that’s ever been handed out to me in my life. And that’s without a subsequent charge or trial and when I was an Adult with a lawyer.

What it feels like to a schoolkid (remember these ARE kids, not adult criminals) to have the whole weight of the criminal law system brought to bear on you has got to be worse.

Stefan August 23, 2005 11:12 AM

Yet another example of why there needs to be liability on the side of the service provider in regard to system security and administration. Clearly they did not have strong enough security controls in place. At a minimum they should have been able to detect these intrusions into their own security systems.

The kids should be held accountable for breaking their terms of service, but the penalty should be revocation of the service; any legal implications should be placed on the shoulders of the organization providing the service, due to the fact that their failure to provide a secure enough environment resulted in their service blowing up in their faces, and minors getting themselves into trouble.

Would you blame a child for easily bypassing a web-blocking service, or would you blame the web-blocking service for being so easily bypassed?

Larry M August 23, 2005 12:25 PM

Would you blame a child for easily bypassing a web-blocking service, or would you blame the web-blocking service for being so easily bypassed?

 Yes, I would.  I am a parent before I am a security professional, and if I say the line is here that is what I mean.  I expect discipline and respect, even towards the stupid admin that taped the password to the computer.

School is for education. Moral and ethical behavior lies squarely on the parent’s shoulders.

Charging the students with a felony is completely wrong, but it does not appear that this was the administration’s first course of action.

MathFox August 23, 2005 4:33 PM

Just a summary of events
– the school had this great “laptop plan”
– all students had to participate
– all parents were FORCED to sign the “laptop agreement” or effectively take their child to another school
– the administrators appeared less than capable
– the laptops were delivered with lacking security
– some students took the opportunity to learn a lot about their laptop systems
– the administrators were unhappy that the students were outsmarting them

And now, should those young fellows, potential “Bruce Schneiers”, be convicted as criminals for showing how good (read bad) a Kutztown school thought out their plans?

One bonus question: Why doesn’t the school go for a “breach of contract” lawsuit?

The truth is politically incorrect.

K August 23, 2005 5:28 PM

The charges are as severe as they are in order to coerce a plea bargain. These students will never have their day in court; they will plead guilty to some lesser crime. And in so doing, be branded.

The real reason? To make sure that when they turn 18, they can’t vote – if I recall correctly, Pennsylvania is one of the states where convicted felons lose the right to vote permanently. After all, if they could vote, they might cast the deciding ballots to throw the school board out of office.

Rich August 23, 2005 9:22 PM

Anyone know what constitutes felony theft in PA? (as opposed to a misdemeanor). Seems to be $500 in some states, based on my quick googling. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the penalty for actually stealing the laptop were less than the penalty for ‘mis-using’ it.

Tom Clark August 23, 2005 10:51 PM

“Would you blame a child for easily bypassing a web-blocking service” – Stefan

Are you kidding? I would be disappointed if they didn’t, and I hope they could devise an artful hack.

And yes, I am a parent – of children, not sheep.

Ed T. August 24, 2005 6:40 AM


{quote}So, everyone is angry at the solution and no one is proposing a viably different one.{/quote}

I think we have had several proposed here:

1) Take the laptops away from the students — the first time they offend.

2) Take away the students’ network access at school — the second time they offend (presuming they have access to desktops at the school.)

3) Fire the kl00l3ss sysadmin who taped the fscking admin password to the back of the laptops — first offense.

4) De-elect the kl00l3ss school admins who decided that a mandatory program which gave students access to laptops (which by their very nature are more insecure than desktops) was a Good Idea. (hint: it wasn’t)

5) If you want to prohibit the use of chat programs at school during class time (which is a reasonable thing), then implement technical means (like traffic filtering) — this can actually be quite effective if done correctly (of course, if your sysadmin thinks that it is OK to tape the s00per-sekkr1t admin password to the back of the laptop, getting it done correctly may be problematic.)

What I know isn’t a reasonable solution is:

1) felony charges (based on what was reported.) Especially true if they are going to be tried as adults (which is possible, based on what the DA wants to do.)

2) summary execution by the police (not completely outside the realm of the possible, especially in some parts of the country. Earlier this year, we had a cop shoot/kill a criminal. The offense? Driving without the headlights on.)

It’s interesting that we think it is so wrong to spank children, but we think it is OK to put them in prison (where being spanked is the least of their concerns.)

Bryan August 24, 2005 4:50 PM

@Ed T.-

Having read the site, I gathered that taking away the kids’ laptops wasn’t an option because that would have effectively removed their ability to participate in key educational programs. So there go your #1 and #2 options.

As to your #3 – do a ctrl-F and find my other comment here. I agree the security applied to those systems wasn’t the best! But consider the point I raise in that August 22, 2005 02:29 PM comment. Exactly how much security is enough before you decide to blame the attacker rather than the attackee?

#4 – So your solution would be the luddite measure of keeping laptops out of education forever? Look around – the world is growing more technical everyday. Disallowing technology in education isn’t a good way to raise competetive students.

#5 – Again I refer you to my prior post. Technical security controls are only one of the deterrent strategies used in any situation where one has something of value to protect. Ultimately, some form of punishment is always going to need to be applied to those who successfully bypass the locks & alarms you install.

I don’t think these kids should serve prison time. I do think they (and the 80-100 others they mention at their website) need to understand the gravity of the situation. The way we do that is show them that doing bad stuff ultimately leads to unenjoyable consequences.

If this happened in my own school district, I’d be happy seeing the kids clean graffiti, pick up litter, etc … maybe even helping design or effectuate better security on the school’s computers. In other words, let them spend some time cleaning up after other scofflaws, and reflecting on the cost of such things.

@K – Your idea that the whole plan is to take away their vote fo the rest of their lives is ludicrous. Juvenile offender records are sealed when the kid reaches the age of majority. The kids may plead out to some lesser charge (in fact I think that’s the most likely outcome) but if they do it will be their choice. If they want ‘their day in court’, they’ll get it.

All – maybe you wonder why I’m standing on this side of the line in this particular issue. Well, two reasons. One is that I’m a network/systems admin myself and I realize the impossibility of building perfect security.

But the one I sort of didn’t think about ’til now is that I was a juvenile felony offender myself. I learned a valuable life lesson from the experience and am glad of it! I can’t say for certain I’d have become a bad apple if the law hadn’t caught up with me, but I can say the experience vastly reduced the chances. I’m pretty thankful I learned the lesson as a juvenile, rather than being marked for life, as would have happened if I had continued my ways until becoming an adult, then been caught and punished.

Doc King August 25, 2005 2:07 AM

A lot of comments here seem to support the kids NOT being punished (as felons at least), but, where do you stop and WHY? These kids were repeatidly punished for Breaking The Rules. Do you finally get to a point where you throw your hands in the air and say Screw It and let them continue Breaking The Rules; or do you escalate the punishment? I’d much rather they were prosecuted as felons than let go. Somewhere Sometime you HAVE to let them know that the Rules are there for a purpose and they MUST follow them or pay the price.

Bryan August 25, 2005 12:18 PM

Yes, the kids should be punished for not following the rules,
and I agree with others here that the punishment–at most–should
be loss of computer access.

Let’s get one thing straight, though – there was NO HARM DONE.
Oh, they cracked the “security” on the systems and changed

Any IT dept worth its salt would already have image disks for
the laptops. At the end of the term, or whenever it is necessary,
the hard drive is wiped and reloaded. The entire process takes only
about 15 minutes.

If the school’s IT department can’t even perform this simple
DEPARTMENT, because they are wasting taxpayer money with the
present incompetence.

Gordo August 27, 2005 4:13 PM

Just a few things to say…
1) A juvenile record is not automatically sealed upon reaching majority unless the perp was under the age of 16 at time of commission. Some of these children are not.
2) The term y’all are looking for is “action in contemplation of dismissal”. This means that if the kids plead guilty (key point), and do not get into trouble for an agreed amount of time that such a plea is expunged. Unfortunately, they must plead guilty, accept sentencing and carry out any punishment, and usually be guilty of only MISDEMEANORS. Felonies are not normally allowed ACD without the agreement of the prosecuting attorney.
3) Even with a sealed record or ACD these kids will never be allowed to get a security clearance or to work for many parts of the US government (unless elected to office)
4) What is being used here is not the “Hammer of God”…more like “Lucifer’s Hammer”.

Davi Ottenheimer August 28, 2005 3:31 AM

“I’d much rather they were prosecuted as felons than let go. Somewhere Sometime you HAVE to let them know that the Rules are there for a purpose and they MUST follow them or pay the price.”

That’s a totally false dichotomy. Do you really expect anyone to believe the US legal system should only have two levers: felony or free? Keep in mind what is generally considered a felony (e.g. aggravated assault, arson, burglary, murder, rape) when you talk about “price to pay”.

More to the point, here’s an update on the case:

“In meetings with students over the last several days, the Berks County juvenile probation office has quietly offered the students a deal in which all charges would be dropped in exchange for 15 hours of community service, a letter of apology, a class on personal responsibility and a few months of probation.

‘The probation department realizes this is small potatoes,’ said William Bispels, an attorney representing nearly half the accused students.”

mike boland attorney for one of the "kutztown 13" August 28, 2005 4:01 AM

well first off the district press release alleging “multiple warnings, prior discipline etc etc” is a mistruth at best an outright lie probably


his parents /guardians were initially “warned” when a letter from the kutztown police instituting felony of computer trespass was received in the mail

the real truth is there were around 80 seniors [1/2 the class] implicated who were simply “ignored” and allowed to graduate

even worse the strict acceptable use policy applied to teachers and admin as well and they routinely violated the AUP by personal emails paying bills online over lunch hour websurfing SOMETIMES IN PLAIN VIEW OF THE STUDENTS– AND –SURPRISE ! THEY WERENT EVEN INVESTIGATED IN THIS DISGRACEFUL EXAMPLE OF PROSECUTORIAL INDISCRETION AND SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT


i am amazed how everyone accepts the school’s press release as gospel


contrary to popular misunderstanding the 13 did not act in concert

these gungho prosecuting school officials are setting new standards of indiscriminate bullying

what was wrong with simply taking away laptop privileges and exhausting school remedies?

i am asking the state Dept of Ed in PA as well as the US Dept of Ed civil rights division to investigate the entire incident which is pervaded with corruption

already it is known that faculty members’ kids and a principal’s kid were tipped off in advance and washed their computers to complete the cover-up

even worse the 13 ++ kids were grilled in the principals’ offices with school officials obtaining the assistance of police and no parental notification was given before questioning

okay– now you say the kids are the criminals here? i don’t think so and i think they were acting as teenage highschoolers usually would in a forced computer experimental curriculum

please investigate the true facts before you try to editorialize in this case

my 15 year old client’s future may depend on it

atty for one of the “kutztown 13”

ewkljtklsja October 9, 2005 5:07 PM

K-town is BS and the administrators are full of it. thats ridiculous, leave the 13 alone!!

Canada February 6, 2006 8:31 AM

It’s hard to believe that there is such a to-do over this. It’s almost as bad as the reaction to the recent cartoon of mohammed!! SUSPEND THE KIDS, TAKE BACK THE LAPTOPS OF THE OFFENDING PARTIES – CASE CLOSED! I must admit I would have done the same thing if I were them. A natural spirit of defiance is what America was born on is it not???

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.