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POLL: Should Dad Sue School District Over Son's Cheating Punishment?

The parent of a Sequoia High student is suing the school district for dropping his son from an honors class for cheating on homework; the action has drawn a national debate.

The pressure on high school students to achieve great things in order to get into a top college is immense, and scoring high in advanced placement classes is almost mandatory. But with high-pressure academics comes high standards. So when four students in an honors English class at in Redwood City copied and shared homework, the consequences swift and serious.

As reported last week in  the San Jose Mercury News  the four students accused of cheating were transferred to a lower level class, which prompted the father of one of the boys, Jack Berghouse, to file a lawsuit against the saying his son's rights were violated.

The lawsuit has outraged many who say it students should face the consequences of their actions. Others support Berghouse's suit because they feel his son's future will be harmed by possibly not getting admitted to an Ivy League school. 

What has ensued has been an outpouring of opinion on the topic of the real lesson being taught here--what's more important, learning to do the right thing, or doing everything necessary to get into the best college?

Take our poll below, and tell us in the comments whether you think this father's lawsuit is warranted. 

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Andrew April 30, 2012 at 12:08 AM
I work my butt off in school to keep up the high grades. I don't cheat. Shame on him and the father. The kid totally deserved it.
Andrew April 30, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Also, why take money away from the already stripped down school district. He won't only be hurting his son's school, but mine (CHS), and all the others in Sequoia district.
Steve Hayes April 30, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I agree with Andrew (and others) - not only is he wasting resources but he has also announced to the world that his son cheats. Mr. Berghouse should have put more effort into teaching his son ethics rather than trying to correct his son's problem by blaming others.
Jeff Selman April 30, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I must disagree with everyone who has posted so far, and say that I believe that the choices premised in the poll (and the debate that I have seen in other media) present a false dichotomy. As I understand, the 4 students copied journal entries that each had written. While I would not condone this activity, having seen what counts for journal entries, I find that the punishment meted out by the school appears to be disproportionately severe for the offense committed. What is more disturbing is that this appears from the news reports to be a strict liability decision, with no realm for appeal or rational discussion. Application of punishment with an absence of any sense of a decision-making process reflects poorly on the school and district, and can contribute to undercutting the life lesson which should be being taught here. Children need to learn that it is not ok to cheat. But they also need to realize that there will be a fair hearing process and application of thought to the enforcement of rules. Anything less than that is likely to engender a desire to circumvent rules. Punishment for the offense of copying homework should have been measured, and as such, would likely have been accepted, without creating a wastefulness that will now exist (and from a legal standard, could be overturned as a denial of due process). In the end, this may turn out to be a pox on all involved, which would be a shame.
Susan April 30, 2012 at 02:03 AM
The Palo Alto Weekly article said that the school had toned down the punishment and the family refused. Seems like all this hoopla would be more difficult for the student than the punishment. Also, I think his mom may work for the school district which must be really awkward.
Susan April 30, 2012 at 02:03 AM
The Palo Alto Weekly article said that the school had toned down the punishment and the family refused. Seems like all this hoopla would be more difficult for the student than the punishment. Also, I think his mom may work for the school district which must be really awkward.
bette page April 30, 2012 at 04:34 AM
This lawyer dad is a bully - that's the lesson he is teaching his son. Might ($$$) makes right. he knows most school districts are loathe to go to court as the costs are hardly something they can afford. Hopefully some rich ceo with ethics will step forward and agree to bankroll the lawsuit for the school [Eli Broad where are you?]. I bet dad drops the suit when faced with the other side having more money than he has. He needs to do self reflection - you raised a kid with no conscience.
Steve Hayes April 30, 2012 at 05:24 AM
I will defend due process until hell freezes over. However, in this case the mother and student signed a document stating that anyone caught cheating would be dropped from the class and everyone (including the father) seems to agree that cheating did occur. The standard was accepted but the student failed to meet that standard. The lesson is simple - do not cheat.
Jeff Selman April 30, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Again, I must disagree. I am aware of studies which have shown that when children are encouraged to focus on learning, as opposed to success, they are less motivated to cheat (in fact, tonight's Dateline had a discussion of just such a study). While I understand that the school had people sign a strict liability honesty policy, it has the potential to create a set of motivations that drives the types of behaviors that are exactly what I (and I believe everyone else here) find so disturbing about the actions of the father -- the overwhelming desire to achieve an end result (retaining the possiblity of being able to get into an Ivy League school), and a belief that all means should be taken to achieve this result. However, what is lost in this story is the fact that the district is removing from the son an opportunity to learn at a certain level that he was at least at some point qualified to be at, and is doing so on the basis of a piece of paper stating a particular consequence for all types of dishonest acts. It is not only an issue of due process, but a failure of the system to emphasize learning rather than success (or here, failure). As long as we create a culture which is focused on success and failure (particularly when there is not a belief that it is ok to fail), rather than a culture focused on learning and application of what is learned, then we will continue to end up with some students exhibiting undesired behaviors.
Julie Kline April 30, 2012 at 12:57 PM
That's all very nice but within your wall of text, you seem to miss one basic thing: HONESTY. The kid cheated. He should suffer the consequences of the contract he signed. Period. No hand wringing, no excuses, no analysis of the pressures society puts on kids and certainly no lawsuits excusing bad behavior. Why are parents so afraid to let their kids feel the consequences of their actions?
Katie April 30, 2012 at 01:44 PM
There is a tremendous amount of pressure today on high school students. Parents should be supportive, but this action is not the right kind of support.
Paul B. April 30, 2012 at 04:35 PM
I would hope that the Judge throws this case out as FRIVOLOUS ! Only in the Left coast can he be assured that a Left Kook of the 9th Circus will allow a stupid suit like this one to continue at the cost of the Tax Payer!
FM April 30, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Never mind students sharing homework. How about the majority of parents who do their children's homework and even instruct them to lie if a teacher asks.
Ralph Garcia April 30, 2012 at 05:02 PM
So according to Jeff there are different levels of cheating, really that's a big part of our young people, seems to be ok till you get caught and where does it come from their parents, How many still talk on a cell phone while driving? After Easter 3 different large easter egg hunts are cancelled because the parents are acting like idiots,taking eggs from other kids because the have more than their child, blocking kids so their child will get to the egg first. Go to almost any youth sports event of any king and watch the parents. This kid cheating is just the tip of the iceburg.
sheri April 30, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Failure would have been not doing the work or turning it in late. Copying another person's work is cheating, plain and simple. This dad is teaching his son yet another valuable lesson: Your promise is meaningless if you can find a loophole to get out of it.
MMY April 30, 2012 at 05:20 PM
The father just made an @$$ of himself and embarrassed his son. I feel bad for the son who will be known as "my father sued the school because of my cheating".
Bob Winters April 30, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Not only has dad announced that Jr. is a cheater, but the son of a lawyer who will sue you if he disagrees with the way your institution treats him.
Buck Shaw April 30, 2012 at 06:52 PM
There is still hope; 1. The School District will not settle the suit and grow some courage. 2. The son will learn Honor despite his father. 3. That we can Boycott the fathers Practice.
Susan April 30, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I believe the policy is not the school's policy but the IB program's policy. IB has this policy worldwide. If you were to talk to other kids at the school, you would find that a lot of them agree with the school and they all signed the same form.
Norm Heise April 30, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Absence very strong reasons for dropping these teens from their AP class for copying an assignment, it might have been better to give each student involved a strong reprimand and an F grade on the assignment copied, and then used the situation as a “teaching moment” by asking each of them to research what Emmanuel Kant meant when he used the term “categorical imperative.” Perhaps they could also be ask to write a essay together expressing their feeling about his related assertions and bring it back to class so it can be discussed by all. Norm Heise
Kristina Turner April 30, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Ages ago, I took several AP classes, but I was unable to attend them all since they were in high demand and my school had to limit how many AP classes any one student could take. This school may also have high enrollment demand with an active waiting list. Back then, you didn't have to be in the class to take the actual AP exam... If you wanted it badly enough, you could study on your own. There are test prep materials for sale... For the kid's sake, lawsuits won't help him pass the exam. He needs to hit the books and self-study.
Linnaea Knisely April 30, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Exactly what I was thinking - give them an F for the assignment, still make them do it, but with another question for no credit, challenge them to learn about what they have lost and use this as a teaching moment, and then move on. Perhaps the IB program needs to reconsider their standard.
Valda Mort April 30, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Does this "dad" really think this will prevent his son from the Ivy League? Maybe his son should consider politics, they lie all the time. If Yale let Bush Jr in, they'd certainly let this kid in as long as daddy pays!
Andrew April 30, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Jeff, if the kid was qualified to be in that class then why would he have to cheat? Also, where are those "studies" that you are talking about? Another thing, we cannot have cheaters in high end jobs doing difficult work. If you're getting a surgery, you wouldn't want a doctor who cheated his way through med school. You wouldn't want a mechanic to fix your car if they don't even know how to. The kid was stupid for cheating and the dad is overreacting.
Jeff Selman May 01, 2012 at 12:01 AM
In response to the request from Andrew, here is a place that you could start to see research on cheating -- http://insidedateline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/29/11412162-why-do-kids-cheat-facts-about-cheating?lite. I note that it states that "Studies estimate that as many as 85% of students engage in some type of academic dishonesty before graduating from high school." While I am appalled to hear that high a number (and I expect everyone here is as well), I am also of the view that 85% of students should not be subjected to a "strict liability throw them out of a class" approach because they signed a piece of paper. Norm and Linnaea below are suggesting the penalty that I would say is appropriate for the offense as I understand occurred. And yes, just as I would view possession of pot different than deadly use of a firearm, even though both are crimes, I would view copying homework as different than being provided the answers to a final exam provided to taking the test, both of which are cheating. While all are inappropriate, I do hope that we have a system that is capable of assessing punishments that fit the crime.
Tommy Tee May 01, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Nope--he signed the form which said he'd get removed NO EXCEPTIONS and he signed it. Typical entitled kid whose parents want to bail him out of consequences.
Andrew May 01, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Jeff, it's not just a piece of paper. It's a contract that ALL students AND their parents had to sign. The student AND the father perfectly knew the consequences of cheating and there is no other way around it. It is true that many high school students cheat, but this kid just happened to be caught. It is still unacceptable and the punishment is fair.
TruthSpeaker May 01, 2012 at 05:15 AM
The issue nearly all of you are concerned with is 'cheating', as if there is some universal definition that everyone agrees upon. Here it seems that the 'cheating' centers upon sharing journals. Engineering colleges discourage isolated learning, and promote the development of team activity. According to the attitudes expressed here, team activity would be defined as cheating. Are you suggesting that engineering colleges promote cheating?
Julius Caesar May 02, 2012 at 07:16 PM
why does it have to be a race issue? why is the dumbass country so obsessed with that notion. it has nothing to do with the fact the kid was white or black or whatever, it has to do with his parents being ignorant idiot retards. stop being such a bigot!
Julius Caesar May 02, 2012 at 07:31 PM
u r lame

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