Elementary school celebration takes a very ‘disturbing turn’ during Zoom livestream

Minnesota elementary school students were reportedly exposed to pornography and bomb/shooting threats by rogue participants of a school-wide Zoom call.

According to Eden Prairie Local News, an independent outlet, Oak Point Elementary students and staff were celebrating “the school’s recent winning of a National Blue Ribbon Award with an upbeat school assembly and flag-raising ceremony in the gym” on Tuesday when the incident occurred.

“What should have been purely a happy celebration of academic excellence took a disturbing turn for viewers who joined a Zoom call to livestream the event. These included Oak Point staff, parents, some students, and, as it turned out, unknown persons with ill intent,” according to the outlet.

One of the “unknown persons” reportedly made sexually explicit remarks and posted pornographic images in the Zoom call. Another reportedly posted a bomb and shooting threat. One issued a verbal bomb threat.

Teachers responded by muting the call, blocking the screen, or turning the call off altogether as quickly as possible, “but not before some students saw explicit images and heard explicit language,” according to the Local News.

Meanwhile, police were called to the school, and the school’s information technology department tracked the location of the out-of-state users who’d posted the pornographic content and issued the threats.

“It is unclear how the users obtained the Zoom link, but the link was not password-protected and did not require an access code,” the Local News notes.

Following the incident, Oak Point Elementary principal Chris Rogers sent an email to parents informing them of what had occurred.

“As soon as we became aware of this content, we ended the call immediately. Our teachers had this Zoom call playing in their classrooms so students could see the flag raised, and though some teachers had their volume off, some of our students may have heard what was said,” he wrote, according to local station KMSP.

“We know hearing a message like this can be scary for children, and you may wish to have a conversation with your child if they were concerned by what they heard or saw. Moving forward, we will take extra steps to ensure that virtual events do not allow external actors to enter,” he added.

Later Tuesday evening, he emailed parents again to let them know that the police had deemed the threats to be non-credible.

“As of this evening, the police department has deemed this to be a non-credible threat, though they continue to investigate the source. As always, we will have a juvenile liaison officer presence in and around our schools tomorrow and through the rest of the week,” he wrote.

Some parents are not thrilled over the fact that this was able to happen in the first place.

“Why was this not a secure thing? Who knows who these people were, and what kind of sick person does this?” one parent asked the EP Local News, adding that their child had heard and seen explicit content on the Zoom call.

“Why didn’t they use better technology to make sure the Zoom call was secure and better controlled?” another parent asked. “If the school wanted to share the link with the community, there should have been an access code and password.”

The second parent also expressed concern that the bomb/shooting threats weren’t being taken seriously enough, and she argued that the school’s communication about the incident could have been significantly better.

School district spokesperson Grace Becker has responded to the backlash by apologizing.

“We are absolutely sorry this happened,” she told the EP Local News. “We do our best to avoid situations like this. When they occur, we do our best to support students who might have been affected. We will learn from this moving forward, and put extra safeguards in place to prevent outside actors from accessing virtual events.”

“Student safety is our first priority. We take these things very seriously, even when we have proof to show these were outside actors from other states,” she added.

This incident comes months after a Common Sense Media survey determined that the average age that most children are exposed to pornography is just 12 years old, though up to 15 percent of respondents reportedly first encountered pornography when they were 10 or younger.

“More than half reported seeing adult content accidentally while clicking on links they didn’t realize would lead to porn, and about 41% reported seeing online porn during the school day,” Detroit station WDIV reported at the time.

Vivek Saxena

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