Racial slurs derail the first day of school in Lake Oswego
This story has been updated from its original version.
Not long after A'jialia McClure, a junior at Lake Oswego High School, joined her science class via Google Classroom on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8, she felt targeted by a racial slur by a classmate in the chat feature of the class meeting platform.
Her teacher, Amy McNeely, had posted a message that the whole class could see on the group chat.
A student then posted "F*ck you" and used the N-word.
McClure is the only Black student in the class. She said she laughed it off at first.
"I was like, 'oh, my god, someone is bold, somebody is really bold,'" she said.
She typed a simple response to the racial comment: "wow."
After that she took a screenshot and posted it to Snapchat.
In an interview last week, McClure said friends of the student who posted it were defending them and saying the person was hacked.
That appeared to be the case, according to findings from the district's investigation. On Monday, Sept. 14, Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz shared information from the investigation in an email to the LOSD Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Access Committee.
"LOSD Computer Network Services conducted an extensive investigation and found, with certainty, that a hacker accessed a student's account," de la Cruz wrote. "Multiple IP addresses and Google security alerts led to a VPN and logins from outside of the area and from other states."
She said that this was "still very much an active investigation" and law enforcement is involved given that a computer crime was committed.
De la Cruz added that this incident took place within what the district refers to as an "asynchronous" classroom environment, which means that instead of meeting live via Zoom, the students were asked to log into Google Classroom and view information posted by the teacher.
"A racial slur and profanity was put in the google classroom chat feature," de la Cruz wrote.
A second incident that took place across the street at Lake Oswego Junior High appeared to be a case of "Zoom-bombing," according to the district.
As LOJ student Ava St. John recalled, a Zoom meeting for her drama class Tuesday, Sept. 8, had two or three people join without their cameras on and using names Ava didn't recognize.
She said they said the N-word repeatedly, about 30 times.
"They went back and forth saying it … and I was in shock," she said.
Ava is a white student and she said there were no Black students in her class.
Ava said she wasn't sure whether the teacher kicked them out or if they left, but they were gone shortly after repeating the racial slurs. At that point, her teacher tried to go back to teaching.
Ava said after the unfamiliar people left the Zoom meeting, other students started saying the N-word as well. And as the teacher leaned over near her camera, a student commented on her breasts.
"He made the comment as she was leaning down," Ava said.
On Sept. 14, de la Cruz provided details on the district's findings.
"Although only 30 students were registered for the class, 60 participants showed up in the class when the teacher admitted all to class at once," she said in the email to the DEI committee. "The additional participants used names that are not registered in LOSD, fake email addresses, and were from IP addresses that have been found to be from outside of Oregon. We also checked attendance in other classes during this time, and no absences stood out as extraordinary.
"The additional participants, who we now presume to be outside of our district, wrote racist and profane words in the chat feature of Zoom. When the teacher saw these words, she shut down the class within approximately 2 minutes according to the time stamps."
According to de la Cruz, the teacher restarted the class after shutting it down — this time admitting one student at a time rather than all at once. De la Cruz said the teacher also addressed the incident with students afterward.
"The principal addressed it with the families and students in the class as well as in the school newsletter, and the principal and assistant principal are creating a follow up presentation for all students for this week," she said. "LOSD Computer Network Services has traced the email and IP addresses to outside of Oregon, and we cannot figure out how exactly people presumed to be outside of our district obtained access to the Zoom link."
More on the district's response
Shortly after McClure took the screenshot of the Google classroom message, her teacher removed the post and disabled the chat feature. McClure said her teacher did not address the incident until the next day when she personally apologized to McClure after class.
McClure's mom, Precious Lott, said the racial slur should have been removed much sooner.
"It was up for all of 8 minutes before the teacher removed the post," Lott said.
In her email Monday, de la Cruz said the delay was because of the way the class was being conducted that day.
"Since it was an asynchronous class, the teacher did not see the comment immediately but took it down as soon as she found it which was approximately 8-15 minutes after it was posted according to the time stamp," de la Cruz said.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Lott contacted LOHS principal Rollin Dickinson and de la Cruz.
"The teacher and student whose email was compromised reported the incident right away.
We are investigating the incident, including tracing the IP addresses to identify the person who posted this language, and will be implementing our full disciplinary response," Dickinson said in an email to LOHS students and parents the day of the incident.
Prior to the district releasing details of its findings Monday, Lott said she wanted written documentation of what disciplinary action would be taken against the student responsible.
Now, Lott said she wants proof that the student's account was hacked.
"I am furious at the moment with so many thoughts running through my head," Lott said in a text message. "This is totally expected from the Lake Oswego school district being that nothing ever comes out of complaints or grievances especially ones that have anything to do with racism. I am at a loss for words."
"The main point for me was that was not the first time something like this has happened," McClure said.
There have been numerous incidents in which McClure has been the target of racial discrimination by her peers. Some incidents previously were reported on by Pamplin Media Group in 2018, when McClure was a student at Lake Oswego Junior High.
In her email, de la Cruz said she'd spoken with Lott, and that both she and Teacher on Special Assignment Teresa Sanchez reached out to McClure.
"To address the needed technical changes, we are now using the highest security measures for Zoom and Google Classroom accessibility," de la Cruz said. "At this time, preventative measures are protective acts."
Communications Director Mary Kay Larson said district teachers began implementing new video meeting protocol last week.
"Instead of hitting 'admit all,' students will need to access class using their school Gmail account and teachers will be admitting students into class one by one so they can cross-reference with their roster," she said.
De la Cruz said the incidents were painful and unacceptable, regardless of how they came about.
"The bigger issue is the pain that was both caused by these incidents," she wrote. "I understand that no matter the circumstances, racist language is hurtful and causes trauma and great negative impact, and I am deeply sorry that our students witnessed these incidents and were negatively impacted by them."
At LOJ, according to Ava, racial and other derogatory slurs are frequent — particularly for the LGBTQ community.
"I believe that people don't report some of the incidents that happen to them because they don't want to go through the whole thing if they aren't sure the people who did it are going to get a punishment," she said. "I think that it's unacceptable for people to go on using derogatory language."
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