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Superintendent: Update Re: Racial Incidents in Online Classes


Dear LOSD Teachers, Staff and Families, 

First, I hope you are each safe and healthy during this difficult experience of fires, evacuation and hazardous air quality. 

I want to update you regarding the Zoom and Google incidents that occured on the first day of school last week. I shared an update in the Sept 11 LOSD newsletter, The Current, and will provide here a more comprehensive overview of the incidents, investigations, findings, and path forward. 

The middle school “Zoom-bombing” incident occurred during the teacher’s second live Zoom class on the first day of school. 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. 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 racists 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. The teacher then restarted the class, this time admitting one student at a time, rather than allowing all to enter as happened the first time. 

As follow-up, the teacher spoke with her class about the incident, 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. 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

The high school incident was not a live Zoom class; it occured in an asynchronous environment of Google Classroom because the teacher was experiencing inconsistent internet access issues due to the power outages. The teacher had posted information for students in Google classroom, with a chat/comment feature available for students to ask questions or comment. A racial slur and profanity was put in the google classroom chat feature. 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.

LOSD Computer Network Services conducted an extensive investigation and found, with certainty, that a hacker accessed a student’s account. Multiple IP addresses and Google security alerts led to a VPN and logins from outside of the area and from other states.  (A VPN is a virtual private network that extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.) 

The teacher addressed this with the class and also with a student who felt they were targeted. I spoke with, and exchanged emails with, the mother of this student as well. Our Equity and Family Engagement TOSA and I also reached out to the student. Additionally, the principal sent a letter to the students and families. On Friday, Sept 11, we followed-up with the LOSD community in The Current newsletter, to share findings so far and next steps in the investigation. 

This is still very much an active investigation and a computer crime has been committed. Interviews and computer forensics have confirmed a computer hack and LOSD has engaged law enforcement. We take these incidents very seriously and administrators spent the two full days immediately following the incidents actively investigating them  -- Tuesday and Wednesday -- in between continued power and internet outages at our CNS site. The investigation was continuing Thursday but at mid day we had to close our buildings and send all staff home due to the hazardous air quality due to the fires. Hazardous air quality conditions and evacuations have kept our buildings closed, which impedes a school investigation. LOPD is helping with the fires at this time, which impedes their ability to investigate as well. All of this to say that the investigation has been slower than it would in a typical scenario. Once these barriers are removed, we can resume the investigation in full force. 

To address the needed technical changes, we are now using the highest security measures for Zoom and Google Classroom accessibility. At this time, preventative measures are protective acts. 

The bigger issue is the pain that was both caused by these incidents. 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. I also recognize that every incident that occurs restimulates racial and ethinic historical woundedness, which is why we have followed up in the ways that we have.

The LOSD school board approved the LOSD Anti-racist resolution at the end of June, and we began our work with teachers and staff as soon as they returned to work mid August. At our beginning of year professional development (PD), we started the district-wide PD in the areas of social emotional learning infused with racial justice and implicit bias. This is the beginning of a year long, multi-year PD plan that has started. September 8, when the incidents occurred, was the first day of school. Teachers have been, and will be, working with students to establish acceptable class norms and online behavior and responsibility in our new school environment when we resume school. We also plan to provide ongoing PD for administrators, teachers and staff to facilitate important conversations on race. 

My goal as a leader in LOSD has been, and continues to be, to provide leadership for important changes in how the district and all of our stakeholders respond to racist incidents in a way that acknowledges the pain caused and transparently communicates the incident and follow-up. As importantly, my goal is to provide leadership for the kind of continuous growth, PD, changes in systems, structures and practices needed to truly be an anti-racist organization. We have taken some important steps in the 14 months that I have been superintendent, and we have at least a thousand steps to go to keep doing better. 

I hope our students, teachers, staff and families will continue to ask questions, continue to support our change efforts, and together, strive to build understanding across our community.

Sincerely,

Dr. Lora de la Cruz, Superintendent, LOSD