Student sues San Dieguito district, says classmate cyberstalked her, hacked her grades – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Haley Dinsmore was 12 when a classmate at Earl Warren Middle School asked her out. She didn’t know the boy, had never talked to him and felt she was too young to be dating anybody, so she politely declined.
In the following weeks, the boy retaliated by taking over her Instagram account, hacking into her family’s computer, and sending death threats, according to a lawsuit Dinsmore and her parents filed last November.
Later, when Dinsmore and the boy were in high school, the boy — who the lawsuit identifies as John Roe because he was a minor — hacked into that school’s student information system and lowered her grades from A’s to B’s, the lawsuit alleges.
Days later, their school district, San Dieguito Union High, filed a police report and Roe was arrested. Months later, a data breach in San Dieguito became the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
Dinsmore, now 18 and a June graduate of Torrey Pines High School in the San Dieguito Union High School District, sued Roe alleging emotional and mental distress and seeking punitive damages. She also is suing Roe’s parents, Robert and Diane Baizer.
And she is suing San Dieguito, alleging negligence and that the district failed to protect her.
“It messed with my self-esteem,” Dinsmore said of the ordeal during a recent interview. “It made me question my whole life.”
San Dieguito declined to comment on the case through its attorney. In legal filings, the district denied responsibility or liability for the incidents alleged in the lawsuit.
Last month the district sued the company that provided its student information system, Aeries Software, based in Orange, Calif. The lawsuit alleges Aeries failed to keep students’ information secure. The district’s cross-complaint seeks to recover any claims, losses, damages, attorney’s fees, judgments or settlements it may incur.
Aeries officials declined to comment for this story.
This wasn’t the first time Aeries was sued for a data breach. Two families, including a former San Dieguito parent, filed a class-action lawsuit in May 2020 against Aeries for a data breach that coincides with the timeline of the hacking alleged in Dinsmore’s lawsuit.
According to a court filing, Aeries said that 166 school district databases were exposed to unauthorized access by an individual beginning in November 2019, but the company did not tell school districts about the breach until April 2020. Aeries Executive Director of Operations Jonathan Cotton stated in a court filing last month that the November breach potentially exposed names, ID numbers, passwords and addresses for about 1 million students.
Cotton also said the same person got into San Dieguito’s database in January 2020 and potentially gained access to about 98,000 people’s account usernames and medical information.
The Dinsmores’ lawsuit said January 2020 was when Roe allegedly changed Dinsmore’s grades. It is unclear from the lawsuit whether the two are connected.
A potential settlement of the class action suit against Aeries that would pay victims up to $10,000 each — for a total of $1.75 million — is set for an Aug. 19 hearing.
For the Dinsmores’ lawsuit, the Baizers generally deny all the allegations in the suit and specifically deny the Dinsmores’ claim that they were negligent in supervising their son, said their attorney, Pete Doody, during a recent interview.
“As the facts will come out, that is certainly not the situation or the case. They were very good and attentive parents,” Doody said.
During a court hearing last summer, Roe read an apology letter to Haley Dinsmore, Heather Dinsmore said.
An uncomfortable situation
Cyberbullying has been on a steady rise, experts say. About one in four high school students nationwide reported being bullied in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dating and relationships are among the most common reasons for the bullying, said Nancy Willard, director of Embrace Civility, a bullying prevention organization.
California’s education laws give schools and districts the authority to suspend or expel students who commit in-person or online bullying.
“That clearly lays out the school should be taking action,” said Deborah Temkin, vice president for youth development and education research at Child Trends.
The events alleged in the Dinsmore’s lawsuit represent an extreme case, she said, and appear to go beyond bullying.
According to Dinsmore’s lawsuit, Roe’s harassment began in April 2016, when he and Dinsmore were middle school students. Dinsmore told him multiple times she did not want to date him, but Roe frequently sent her Instagram messages until she blocked him, her lawsuit says.
“It was kind of weird and uncomfortable and we didn’t have any of the same friends,” Dinsmore said in a recent interview. “Looking back, clearly I was very much within my right to say no.”
Later in the summer, the lawsuit said, Roe hacked into her Instagram account, changed her password, and put an image of a brick wall on her page. Then he created a fake Instagram account impersonating Dinsmore.
He also hacked into her family’s computer and published their passwords and account information on the internet, the suit said.
He also called her home, as early as 4:30 a.m., and left several menacing messages in which he called Dinsmore a whore and threatened to kill her, according to the lawsuit.
The Dinsmores said they reported the alleged harassment to the sheriff’s department, which facilitated a meeting between both sets of parents.
The Dinsmores agreed not to file criminal charges against Roe in exchange for the Baizers’ agreement to send their son to a psychiatrist and to put him in a different high school than the one Haley Dinsmore planned to attend, Torrey Pines, the lawsuit said.
The harassment subsided during their eighth and ninth grades, the lawsuit said, and Roe attended Canyon Crest Academy. In 10th grade, Roe transferred into Torrey Pines High because Canyon Crest Academy was not a good academic fit for Roe, Doody said.
According to the lawsuit, the Baizer parents promised the Dinsmores that Roe would stay away from Haley while at Torrey Pines.
Haley’s mother, Heather Dinsmore, warned school officials about Roe’s past alleged behavior and asked them to provide security for her daughter. But when she gave them a file with documents about the allegations, school administrators would not look at it, the lawsuit said.
In January 2020, during finals week of Haley Dinsmore’s junior year, she said she noticed that some of her grades had suddenly fallen from A’s to B’s. She had been watching her grades “like a hawk” and was doing well in her classes, she said, and there were no new assignments that could have affected the grades.
She reported the grade changes to her teachers, but they accused her of being paranoid, she said.
Days later, Dinsmore received social media messages from one of Roe’s friends telling her that Roe had hacked her records and changed her grades, the lawsuit said. Soon after, Dinsmore saw her grades suddenly rise back to A’s, but with scores that were higher than before, she said.
Dinsmore again told school staff but they did not believe her, she said.
“Nobody was listening to me,” Dinsmore said. “Nobody was willing to help me.”
Five days later, the district called San Diego police, who came to the school and pulled Haley Dinsmore out of a class she shared with Roe to question her. Later that day, police took Roe out of class and arrested him, the lawsuit alleges.
Heather Dinsmore said Haley was humiliated and embarrassed because her classmates had connected her with Roe’s arrest.
The next day, San Dieguito told district families it was shutting down outside access to the Aeries program because of security issues.
Eight months later, in September 2020, Haley Dinsmore received a letter from Aeries Software alerting her that somebody had gotten unauthorized access to San Dieguito’s student information system from April 2019 to January 2020. The district also alleged in its lawsuit against Aeries that a male student had changed Dinsmore’s and other students’ records.
Haley Dinsmore said the harassment she alleged in her lawsuit hurt her self-esteem, her standing with her peers and her mental health. The alleged grade manipulation also ruined her confidence in school and may have disrupted her chances of getting into good colleges, she said.
Sometimes, when she was alone at night, she felt she was being watched.
“The paranoia is just kind of ingrained in me,” she said.
She has been going to therapy for more than a year. She said San Dieguito paid for it for a time and then stopped when she graduated.