Virtual learning has been disrupted in at least nine Oregon school districts by online intruders using racial slurs, hate speech or broadcasting sexual images, Pamplin Media Group has confirmed.
At Portland Public Schools' Wilson High School, several teachers reported that classes were marred by "unidentified individuals who made racist and anti-Semitic remarks," according to a Sept. 14 letter to parents by Principal Filip Hristic.
According to a student who attended one such class, an intruder specifically mocked a Jewish educator's appearance during an incident on Sept. 9.
"He started yelling at the teacher and calling him names and Jewish caricatures," the student said, requesting anonymity due to the potential for further harassment. "It was definitely targeted."
The intruder gained entry to the classroom multiple times by changing their username to match those on the class roster — and even shared their screen with the class in order to broadcast a video promoting the Ku Klux Klan.
The witness to the hate speech, who is also Jewish, said the incidents happened on multiple days until administrators required all students to sign into their Portland Public Schools email accounts before joining the Zoom lessons. But the student is left wondering if the intruder had help from the inside.
"You can't get into the Zoom meeting without having the link or a code," he said. "It was really shocking to me. I'm one of those people who is targeted and that's a weird feeling."
The educator sent a letter to parents saying that tech staff were seeking to track down the individual behind the hate speech, but said he was doubtful the attempt would be successful.
"I'm saddened and angry at the same time to have to report this," the educator said.
As public schools remain shuttered across the state, administrators have struggled to keep their online equivalents secure.
Portland Public Schools reported an outburst of racism by an intruder at Lane Middle School as recently as Oct. 6.
In North Clackamas, the state's seventh largest school district, administrators canceled live virtual orientation week events at three high schools after anonymous students used racist language and dressed inappropriately.
In the David Douglas School District serving East Portland, a "blatantly racist" intruder shouted slurs targeting Black families during a Back to School assembly.
In Medford, a man exposed himself during a live online class, the Mail Tribune reported. Racial slurs were also used in Newberg. Sexual and racist imagery was disseminated in the Salem-Keizer school district. Canby and Molalla schools also reported inappropriate behavior.
Lake Oswego High School and the junior high across the street suffered hacking attacks that breached at least one student account, and 30 harassers swarmed a drama class and shouted the N-word.
"Even though the offending individuals were quickly removed, we take seriously all instances of hate speech," said Principal Hristic, echoing comments from the other districts. "We are continuing to gather relevant information and are taking steps to provide greater security of our distance learning classrooms. Ensuring safety for our students and employees is our highest priority, and we will do everything in our power to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future."
Portland Public Schools spokeswoman Karen Werstein said she had not received reports of hate speech at other district high schools, but said administrators were implementing procedures to "ensure student behavior is monitored and the classroom culture is that of student respect, sharing of ideas and welcoming spaces."
"We had some cases of inappropriate online behavior last week but I haven't heard of any this week," Werstein said Thursday, Sept. 17. "We have provided additional training with video and tips for teachers to help prevent this from happening."
While the specifics of the incidents at Wilson High School are unknown, several other school districts hosted online learning spaces with exploitable gaps in security.
Parents at Clackamas High School told Pamplin Media Group that their student orientation events were hosted on Google Meet — with invite links that could be accessed by any valid Google account, not just those associated with the school. In a letter to parents, CHS Principal Nate Munoz admitted the Google Meet program had become a "platform for hate."
In Lake Oswego, a drama teacher apparently allowed everyone sitting in a virtual "waiting room" to join her class en masse — without noticing that 60 accounts were requesting access to a class with 30 registered students.
In another September incident in Lake Oswego schools, Superintendent Lora de la Cruz told Pamplin Media an investigation found that someone cloaking the identity of their internet service provider hacked into a student email account and began posting the N-word.
In May, a Lake Oswego Library trivia event hosted on Zoom was disrupted by an account with a generic name that began broadcasting child pornography from their own feed after joining.
Clara Howell and Asia Alvarez Zeller contributed reporting from Lake Oswego.
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