Sept. 23, 2007 — -- Hanover, N.H., is the kind of small New England town where it seems like everyone always gets along. It was voted the second best place to live in the United States in a 2007 Money magazine survey. But now this close-knit community is being ripped apart.
"It has deeply affected the town. I think the town has become divided over it. I think we were shocked by it to begin with," said local resident Aine Donovan.
They're shocked by a cheating scandal at the local public high school, which started last June as pressure was building toward final exams.
Nine students allegedly broke into the school to steal math and chemistry exams and share them with their friends. They've been nicknamed "the notorious nine." Instead of suspending or failing the students, school officials called the police.
"It's very scary, because you try to protect them, but when the police come along and won't listen to reason, you don't know where to go," said Jim Kenyon, whose son Nicholas is one of the students now facing criminal charges — a punishment Kenyon calls draconian.
"It's a cheating issue, and not going to be solved in police interrogation rooms or courtrooms — it's got to be something schools and parents deal with," added Kenyon. "You'd think the school would try to help you in this situation, and instead, they're working against you."
The students currently face misdemeanors, which won't result in jail time, but parents are concerned about how this will affect their children's futures.
Kenyon said he's taken out a second mortgage to pay for his son's attorneys fees. But some of the parents of the other accused students are wealthy, and accuse law enforcement of going overboard to make the point that privileged children are not above the law.
Hanover prosecutor Christopher O'Connor said that's ridiculous. "This office does not take into consideration anyone's economic status, or where they're from," he said. "The only thing my office cares about is whether or not a case is presented to me by a law enforcement agency that establishes a crime has been committed."
But Kenyon believes it never should have gone this far, and that the school should have dealt with the matter internally. "I think they should have done their own investigation first, talked to parents and gotten to the bottom of it, but police should have made the last call, not the first," he said.
School administrators say they never would have called police if it was just a matter of cheating, but they had no choice — they called authorities because they believed the students were involved in breaking and entering.
One thing everyone in Hanover seems to agree on is that there's a deeper issue that needs to be examined: Are high school students facing too much pressure to get into college?