45-year-old Catherine Venusto allegedly changed her children's grades by using passwords she obtained while working for their school district. She was charged with three counts each of unlawful use of a computer and computer trespass. The former secretary was arraigned Wednesday on a half-dozen felony counts and released on $30,000 unsecured bail, court records show. State police say she admitted changing the grades, and while she agreed her actions were unethical, she didn't think they were illegal.
Venusto started the scheme while she still worked at the Northwestern Lehigh School District, according to CBS News. Officials say she changed a failing grade to a medical exception for her daughter in 2010. She left Northwestern Lehigh's employ in April 2011. That didn't stop her. She's also accused of bumping one of her son's grades from 98 to 99 percent in February 2012.
Venusto used the Superintendent Mary Anne Wright's password to access district computer systems 110 times. The mother of two also used the information of nine other Northwestern Lehigh employees to gain access to district e-mails and personnel files thousands of times, according to authorities. The district found no evidence that any confidential information had been used for illegal purposes.
In February 2012, when a high school principal called to report that some teachers were asking why the superintendent was accessing the grading system, it was clear something was amiss. Wright said she never logged in to look at students' grades. The call triggered an immediate shutdown of the computer system and district officials said they later tightened security policies. All parents whose children's information was accessed were notified and meetings to address student and staff concerns were scheduled.
"The District assisted the Pennsylvania State Police in efforts to identify and apprehend the person responsible for this incident," Wright said in a statement. "The acts were intentional, criminal action to obtain protected information. We deeply regret this incident and that this unauthorized access occurred, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause. We are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again, and new security procedures are in place to better assure that our systems are protected from such attempts."