Oak Brook superintendent: Suit not a factor in lifting students' sanctions
Butler Elementary District 53 Superintendent Heidi Wennstrom says the district's decision to remove sanctions against three students involved in last year's geography bee cheating scandal has nothing to do with lawsuits against the district and everything to do with a recently seated board deciding to ease up on the young students -- but not necessarily their parents.
The three boys were banned from all academic competitions in the district last year after officials accused their parents of intentionally purchasing and downloading test questions days before the Jan. 19, 2016, GeoBee at Brook Forest Elementary School. Two boys were age 9 and one was 11 at the time.
According to court documents, officials have agreed to remove two letters from the boys' school files related to a district investigation into the parents' actions.
Board President Elizabeth Chun declined to discuss "actions (the board) takes regarding any individual student or family."
Wennstrom discussed the decision Monday, just one day before a scheduled hearing on one of the pending lawsuits in DuPage County.
"The newly elected board reviewed the matter and decided the sanctions had been sufficiently satisfied and that there were no more known incidents," she said. "These are children and we would love to give them another chance moving forward."
The four board members whose terms expired in April 2017 did not seek re-election.
While the children will each walk into school later this month with a clean slate, their parents will not.
"The previously imposed sanctions remain with the parents. That has not been sufficiently satisfied," Wennstrom said. "That concern still lingers. But regarding the children being given another opportunity to participate in after-school activities, I feel very much in support of that decision."
Wennstrom said she could not disclose the sanctions imposed against the parents, but court documents indicate the parents are "not permitted to serve in any capacity as a parent volunteer in any school-related contests or competitions."
According to the original lawsuit and its exhibits, a six-week investigation determined that Komal Julka, the mother of two of the boys, had registered as a "fraudulent" home school provider and paid for the bee's questions with her credit card.
Administrators began receiving complaints Jan. 15, 2016, about Julka admitting to "jailbreaking" the geography bee system and gaining access to test questions. According to exhibits filed in the lawsuit, another parent claims to have twice urged the Julkas to remove their children from the competition, which they eventually did.
A third child's parents eventually filed a similar suit against the district, also alleging their son was mistreated and accused of cheating on the same bees.
"We currently have five lawsuits, three in civil court and two in federal court, over this same issue of academic dishonesty," Wennstrom said. "Those are all still in play, which causes me to have great restriction of what I'm able to share."