EHS student faces felony charges

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   An Elizabethton High School senior faces felony charges including identity theft and theft over $1,000 following a police investigation into allegations of illegal purchases made with credit cards of faculty and staff at the high school.
   Detective Jason McCall of Elizabethton Police Department's Criminal Investigations Division said Thursday the student, identified as a 17-year-old male, faced charges of identity theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, theft over $1,000 and a computer crime offense. Detectives confirmed Thursday they had served the student and his parents with summonses listing the charges.
   Police initiated an investigation into the allegations late last month when teachers and staff members contacted police about credit cards being used without their permission. McCall said the student allegedly took 6 credit cards from five teachers and staff members at the high school. According to police, the student accessed two Web sites from a computer located at the high school and ordered several items of computer equipment totaling more than $2,200. The items were reportedly shipped to a residence in Johnson City, police said.
   "He purchased the computer equipment with an intention to build his own computer system," McCall said. Three deliveries of the equipment were made to the residence. McCall said most of the alleged shipments were canceled before being delivered.
   Police said the first on-line purchase allegedly occurred on April 20 and the last on April 27. Police were notified shortly thereafter, McCall said.
   Identity theft and theft over $1,000 both rank as class D felonies under state law. The student was charged with felony counts of computer crime and fraudulent use of a credit card.
   Since the student is a juvenile, police did not release his name. A hearing date in Juvenile Court had not been set Thursday, according to the Circuit Court Clerk's office.
   ECS Superintendent Dr. David Roper declined to comment on specifics of the case citing student privacy, but he did say the system administration are aware of the allegations. He said school system policies outlined procedures to investigate allegations of improper conduct by students or faculty members.
   "Any time there is an allegation of student misconduct we will follow the procedures we have outlined; it doesn't matter who they are," said Roper.
   "We will follow those and go by board policy and Tennessee statute."
   According to police, the student had extended access to computers used in computer labs at the high school.
   Roper confirmed that students in all five city schools had a "limited amount of autonomy" if they work under the supervision of staff members. While avoiding comment on the allegations, Roper said he felt school officials might reexamine existing policies regarding student access to computers.
   "As much as we can do, we won't have improper conduct," he said.
   Another issue possibly facing school administrators and the Elizabethton Board of Education is whether the student will be allowed to attend high school graduation ceremonies on May 22.
   Roper differentiated the issues of the system allowing a student to graduate with a diploma and allowing a student to attend his or her graduation ceremony. He said the system could not stop a student from graduating if he or she had fulfilled the academic requirements set forth by school policy and state law. However, he said the school could bar a student from attending graduation ceremonies or other senior class activities if the offense was deemed to warrant such disciplinary action.
   "Even though a person may have the academic standing to meet the diploma we can as a disciplinary consequence bar their participation in the ceremony," Roper said. "That (attending the graduation ceremony) is not a right."
   Roper said school policy identified four levels of offenses for both students and staff members. Each level sets forth disciplinary options and procedures that can be utilized by school officials. Disciplinary options range in severity from a conference with a teacher or a written reprimand, to suspension or expulsion of a student and placement in the system's alternative learning academy, alias "the blue school".
   Roper said administrators based disciplinary action on the nature of an offense and whether the offense constituted a repeated pattern of behavior by a student or faculty member.
   The allegations come less than one month after Board of Education voted to pursue a new student information management system to record academic and attendance records for city students. The state's vendor, Century Consultants, will provide a Web-based information system of student information and special education information that gives teachers and administrators the ability to access the information from any Internet source.