WILKES-BARRE — Dallas School District’s technology director urged administrators not to expel a student accused of mounting an attack on the district’s main Internet server, it was revealed during a hearing Thursday in Luzerne County Court.
Gary Michak, a lawyer for the teen and his family — identified in court documents only by their initials — sought the hearing on a permanent injunction against the district’s decision to suspend the student. Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas issued a preliminary injunction last week, ordering the youth back to school pending the court hearing.
District officials say the boy, 15, “intentionally created multiple files and folders,” composed of small Word documents repeatedly duplicated, that would have crashed the server if technology director Bill Gartrell had not intervened.
The parents say they were told by high school Principal Jeffrey Shaffer that the youth “was being investigated as a cyber-terrorist, and that the district was considering referrals to law enforcement, including federal law enforcement.” As well, they also were “informed that expulsion was being considered, and that it was likely that (the student) would be expelled.”
In a proceeding Thursday before county Judge Michael T. Vough, Gartrell was instructed to read aloud a Feb. 1 email he sent to Shaffer.
“I’d like us to not expel this student,” Gartrell wrote, adding that taking away his computer privileges “could also straighten him out.” Therapy might be another option to consider, he wrote. But under questioning by Michak, Gartrell also admitted he “has nothing to do with disciplinary action,” and the email was “just voicing an opinion” on an internal document.
The boy was given a three-day suspension on Jan. 24, the day after the incident, that was escalated into a 10-day suspension after an informal hearing Jan. 27. The student’s parents argue in legal filings that neither their suspended son nor their attorney was permitted to attend the hearing, at which they claim they were never given evidence of what the student actually did, nor given the opportunity to question Gartrell, who was not present.
The father, also identified only by his initials in court, said the Jan. 27 informal hearing lasted only about 10 minutes. He acknowledged under questioning by district lawyers on Thursday that neither he nor his wife asked for Gartrell to be present. It emerged under questioning, however, that the couple received Gartrell’s e-mail describing their son’s alleged actions only toward the end of their brief visit to the school on Jan. 27, after they had been informed of his 10-day suspension.
Gartrell also testified that when initially confronted about his computer activity, the student said he was copying the files on a dare from a friend outside the district. Under questioning, Gartrell said he did not know the nature of that dare.
Additional witnesses are expected to be called when the proceeding resumes this afternoon.
Leaving court, the boy’s parents expressed reluctance to comment, but the youth’s mother called the district’s version of events “a gross exaggeration of what actually took place.”