By Thanksgiving, the number of young people on Long Island charged with cheating on their college board exams is expected to reach 13, with at least five more arrests on tap, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
There are dozens more involved as well as a grand jury empaneled in Mineola to look into cheating that started in Great Neck North High School and now looks likely to spread to Roslyn, other communities and at least one of the well-regarded Jewish high schools on the Island.
For $2,500 at least one Great Neck North student is alleged to have sat for the SATs in the names of others.
No matter the outcome, the damage to the Island's reputation is permanent: Nassau and Suffolk school systems, among the most expensive and well-regarded in the nation, are regarded as corrupt.
Each year, the high schools, including the Jewish and Catholic ones, as well as private Friends Academy and others, proudly win their Intel, Siemens, National Merit and other scholarships. In 2006, Great Neck North's David Aaron Carpenter was a Presidential Scholar and received a gold medal from President George W. Bush. Following his graduation from Princeton, he's pursuing a promising career in music.
Besides exposing the seamy side of high school life and the SATs, the Great Neck scandal also illustrated Long Island's ethnic complexity. Alleged ringleader Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, is Iranian-American; his mother Janet Esaghoff (she changed her name) is the first Iranian-American president of the Great Neck Library.
Last month, Great Neck voters overwhelmingly defeated a $20.6 million library renovation. In the lead-up to the vote, Esaghoff posted a note on the library's Web site claiming that her personal family crisis shouldn't govern votes. She was forced to remove it after many complaints were received.
All but one of the other students charged to date are Iranian-American; about a third of the Great Neck school district's population of 45,000 shares that background. On Election Day, another library trustee, Anna Monahemi Kaplan, was elected as a member of the North Hempstead Town Council on the Democratic line. Born in Tabriz, she said she regarded it as an only in America honor.
Great Neck has two other public high schools, including a small alternate institution. Students and recent alumni have told IBTimes recently they weren't surprised by the SAT scandal, the cheating or the money involved.
Nearly 20 years ago, Great Neck students won the right to park on adjacent streets near the school; Mercedes, BMWs, Lexuses and Infinitis dominate. Some of the alumni say they tell colleagues and friends they attended Great Neck South H.S., known for its large student body of Asians from China, Taiwan, Korea and India, rather than Iran.
Rice will handle the legal complications. The N.Y. State Senate has already held a hearing at which College Board President Gaston Caperton announced the hiring of former FBI director Louis Freeh to conduct a massive probe of cheating and security. Nationwide programs are to be implemented, he said.
Still, what would some famous Long Islanders of the past say, like Theodore Roosevelt (Oyster Bay) or his niece, Eleanor (Hempstead)? Our Nobel Prize-winning scientists like Harold Varmus (from Freeport) and David Baltimore (Great Neck)? Famous professors like Doris Kearns Goodwin (Rockville Centre)?
All but the Roosevelts attended the public schools. Their childhoods were spent on the Island, if they perhaps chose not to live there. The SAT scandal may only be the tip of the iceberg, if it indicates the generation of tomorrow does not understand the essentials of ethics and honesty.