Twelve West Islip ninth-graders have been punished for using Facebook to cheat on biology homework, laboratory assignments and a recent exam, the district's superintendent confirmed Thursday.
The group used the social media site to share answers -- including posting a photo of an answer sheet to the exam for other students to access while they still were taking the teacher-created biology test, Superintendent Richard Simon said.
"It started out as kids just trying to help each other and it went beyond that," Simon said.
The district was alerted to the Facebook page last week when a parent sent an anonymous letter to West Islip High School's principal and the biology teacher.
An in-school investigation ensued and the Facebook page was taken down, Simon said.
The district would not identify the biology class.
Simon would not disclose in what way the students were punished, saying only that they were disciplined according to the district's code of conduct.
"Somewhere in between a warning and out-of-school suspension," he said.
One student who confessed to school officials that he was the initiator received more severe punishment, Simon said. He would not be specific about what actions that student had taken regarding the cheating.
The district prohibits the use of cellphones in the classroom, he said. That policy is more strictly enforced during state, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, Simon said.
Simon said it is difficult to manage how students use technology in the classroom.
"Over the last 10 years, there have been significant testing scandals across the country," he said. "All of that has evolved and it has impacted us at the national and local level. It is one of the reasons schools have very strict policies with cellphones."
Simon said he and district officials will use this as a "teachable moment" and talk to students about making good choices.