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New Trier Senior Charged With Hacking into School Files: Some Parents, Students Question Whether Police Action Was Needed

May 8, 2008

By Emily S. Achenbaum, Chicago Tribune

May 8–Tribune reporter

A New Trier Township High School senior was charged Wednesday with one count of misdemeanor computer tampering for allegedly breaking into the school’s electronic student records in February, and some parents and students are coming to his defense.

Jonah Greenthal, 18, of Glencoe turned himself in to police and could face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.

The arrest has prompted an outcry in the New Trier community by some who said that while Greenthal was in the wrong, the school already has punished him and involving police is overkill.

“They’re carrying it too far,” said parent Nancy Nazari of Wilmette, who is the mother of a freshman and a recent graduate. Nazari, who does not know the Greenthals, came to the police station Wednesday because she feels the school is overreacting: “New Trier could have just taken care of this themselves. No one was hurt by this.”

Before charges were filed, parent Harveen Mann urged school officials in a letter to “weigh the ‘criminality’ of Jonah’s act–an indiscretion of youth, more than any real criminal intent or act–against the very real and dangerous crimes in our society in general and to stop any further legal actions against the student.”

In February, school officials alerted parents that a student, apparently trying to find out his class rank and the ranks of other students, had broken into the computer system and accessed files with ACT scores and semester grades more than once.

In a memo to parents in February, New Trier Township High School District 203 Supt. Linda Yonke said she did not believe the information was shared with other students and said “strong disciplinary and legal action” was in the works. Yonke could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Winnetka Police Deputy Chief Patrick Kreis said New Trier staff contacted his office on Feb. 22, and the school requested the investigation.

One day, staff noticed the hacker was in the system as they were watching, and the hacker was working from a computer on school grounds, Kreis said. The staffers walked around the school looking at students’ computer screens and caught Greenthal, who was using a personal laptop, looking at the information, Kreis said.

A woman who answered the door at the Greenthals’ home Wednesday declined to comment.

New Trier student body president Mark Chou said Greenthal’s punishment has been excessive. Chou said Greenthal has been out of school for three months on a suspension, and is not allowed to attend the school’s prom next week or walk at graduation in June.

“We understand he wasn’t supposed to do this. But his intent was never to hurt anyone, and he’s really remorseful,” Chou said.

Chou said students have been making T-shirts and wristbands to show their support for Greenthal. On his Facebook page Tuesday, Greenthal wrote he “just wants to disappear.”

According to the Facebook page, Greenthal will attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall to study electrical engineering and computer science.

He was released Wednesday on $1,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court June 5 in Skokie.

eachenbaum@tribune.com

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