St. Charles students expelled for shutting down Dist. 303 network

Two St. Charles East High School students have been expelled and face legal ramifications after recently shutting down the district's computer network for the better part of a month.

St. Charles Unit District 303 officials confirmed the students used their personal cellphones in a denial-of-service attack on the district's servers.

Such an attack involves flooding the servers with a large amount of data or page view requests. A server can process only so many requests. When it surpasses the workload it can handle, other users are prevented from accessing email, websites, online accounts or other servers that rely on the affected network.

In this case, teachers were blocked from using the various online grading, homework and education programs the districts hosts.

"It clearly made life very difficult for our teaching staff," Superintendent Don Schlomann said. "I think, clearly, that had a great deal of impact on our classrooms. And that was the most concerning part of this for me."

The district consulted with the Secret Service, FBI, St. Charles police and outside experts to help track the source of the network attacks. In doing so, officials racked up a $9,000 consulting bill.

Even with that outside help, Schlomann said staff members nabbed the attackers only after they started bragging about the success of the attack to other students, who then informed district officials.

Once caught, the students confessed to the attack, Schlomann said. They told officials they learned how to perform the attack through a fellow fan of online video games who went by the alias "Swag."

Initially, the students used a different version of the attack to boot fellow gamers they didn't like offline. Then they decided to see how it would work at school.

Schlomann said the students didn't express any specific goal in performing the attack on the school servers. In fact, at least initially, they weren't aware the attack had any impact on the network outside St. Charles East High School.

The students were expelled from the district for the rest of the school year, Schlomann said. They will be able to re-enroll next year.

Until then, the students decided to avail themselves of an option presented to everyone who faces expulsion, he said. They enrolled in an online school option, outside the purview of the district.

In addition, the students also faced legal charges. The outcome of the court proceedings is sealed because the students are juveniles.

"I think this was something the students learned from," Schlomann said. "And I hope students get the message that we take this sort of thing very seriously."

Short of contracting with an outside security company for hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, Schlomann said there is nothing the district can do to completely prevent similar attacks on the district's network from happening in the future.

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